The humor in Bath House: The Musical, the
current Rarely Done production at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St.,
is turned against the gay world from the inside. While the posturing
and games-playing in bath houses might not have been camp exactly, they
run to excesses of style. When they are spoofed, straights who have
never been to a bath house get what’s going on without explanation.
The tell-tale colon followed by the words The Musical invites another approach to this show, that of Jennie Linders’ Menopause: The Musical, now in its third run a few blocks away at Syracuse Stage. As with Menopause,
there are four characters who appear as types: Billy (David Cotter),
the naive newcomer; Teddy (Alex Allport), the insouciant hunk; Maurice
(Peter Irwin), the dour, mature one; and David (Jimmy Wachter), the
comic. Whereas Linders wants to control every cuticle of detail in Menopause, Tim Evanicki, co-composer with Esther Daack of Bath House, also inserts
himself into the middle of this Rarely Done production. The prerecorded
voice-over commenting on the action and hectoring characters into play
comes from none other than Evanicki himself. Well, if he wants
something done right. . .
A further comparison between the two shows makes Bath House look to be the stronger. In Menopause
all the music rewrites lyrics of golden oldies, from when the target
audience was young, like a sorority skit with words you couldn’t say in
school. Evanicki and Daack’s score is mostly original, if done in the
style of established (often gay) composers. The first act’s “Bathhouse
ABC’s” is a patter song worthy of Noel Coward, and the complex
harmonies of “Seduction” beg for comparison with Stephen Sondheim.
Towel play: From left, Alex Allport, Jimmy Wachter, David Cotter and Peter Irwin in Rarely Done’s Bath House: The Musical.
More outrageous is the suggestion of Sesame Street in “Penises Are Like Snowflakes.” The broader parodies evoke country-western, Les Miserables, the
twist and tent-revival gospel. Only in the potpourri finales do you
hear direct quotations from Rodgers and Hammerstein, such as The Sound of Music and Oklahoma!, albeit with naughty new lyrics, a la Jennie Linders: “I’m just a gay who can’t say no.”
A handful of Evanicki-Daack numbers could have a life of their own beyond the show, something that can’t happen with Menopause. Among
the best of these is the poignant duet of breaking up, “Unlove Me,”
although singing about the end of love is unlikely to go over well with
the cabaret crowd at the Rainbow Room.
The slender, almost invisible plot that
ties 15 musical numbers together builds on the suggestion that Billy,
only recently “out” in his sexual preference, is going to the bath
house for the first time. Hygiene and sweat are not his first issues.
Upon entry he’s impossibly gauche in making overtures. But after
posting a personal on his laptop about a youngster who wants the
companionship of an older, experienced man and getting a flood of
responses, he’s better positioned to play the game.
Considering that the four players are
clad only in bath towels (and censor-defying jock straps), audiences
may be surprised that the gags in Bath House don’t push the
envelope especially hard, and then not until later in the second act.
Among the better of these is a lengthy dialogue written entirely in the
abbreviations of personal ads, enough to put the challenge to longtime
readers of The New Times: “GWM who is DDF seeks BiSM for FGT
but not LTA,” and so on. More often gags turn on low-level gross-out
and puns. “Don’t feel awkward. I’ve been lonely since my twin brother
died. We were conjoined. No freaks, please.” Or, “Be it ever so humble,
there’s no place like ho-mo.”
Director Dan Tursi, a multiple winner of Syracuse New Times
Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) honors, is a proven master of the
timing and wit required to put on a show like this one. Sure enough,
every step he takes is steady and adroit. Tursi’s efforts are aided by
Chris Widomski’s adept musical accompaniment; he makes a single
keyboard do the work of an orchestra.
In the cast Tursi has assembled
different folks for different strokes. Top musical honors go to Peter
Irwin, who has extensive opera and oratorio credits, as Maurice.
Although denied many one-liners because of his character, he’s in top
form in the duet “Unlove Me.” The other half of that duet is
well-handled by newcomer David Cotter, a recent Crane School graduate,
who knows well how to deliver a gag line.
More of the comedy goes to widely
experienced chrome-domed Jimmy Wachter, who looks like a blue-eyed Ben
Kingsley with tattoos. Also Kingsley-like are his yoga-inspired
physical gags, including a funny fakir. And newcomer Alex Allport
supplies a perfect piece of beefcake with gum-chewing sass. A bit short
on musical acumen, Allport’s program bio says this appearance marks the
beginning and the end of his theatrical career.
This production runs through June 21. See Times Table for information.