Patrick M. Doneghy of the Dominion Stage had a good idea. Why not write a sketch about a gay men’s support group and use it as the platform to feature the men singing songs written for women? It’s the kind of fun, out of the ordinary thing theatre companies like to do from time to time. Just for the joy of doing it. No pressure, low expectations, lots of fun for all concerned.
There are wonderfully drawn characters, well plotted mini-stories, killer laugh lines — and the singing? Almost all of it fabulous!
From Hair – “Easy to be Hard,” and from Cabaret – “Maybe This Time” were just two of the highlights. The showstopper was “I’m a W-O-M-A-N, Woman!” And then there was the Billie Holliday classic, “Mean to Me.” That one gave me goose bumps.
One might anticipate that a something like this would be pretty camped up and have a limited appeal. Remember, the premise here is a support group for gay men with “issues.” Not even close. This is the real thing. There are beautifully touching moments and moments of great hilarity mixed with poignant, bitter-sweet, absolutely and authentically human being moments.
I was completely drawn in and found myself caring very much about the characters, what they were going through and how it was all going to come out. And then they would burst into song and the level of surprise and delight would simply go over the top. As in the first time I saw Chorus Line over the top.
That’s What She Sang provides that kind of awe-inspiring surprise one goes to the theatre hoping to find. There are certainly some rough edges here and there and some slightly disjointed transitions. In order to become a full-blown, main-stage production (which I hope very much it will), it needs work. But all the essential elements are there – especially the heart. This show has real heart.
The cast was uniformly outstanding and featured a delightful variety of character types, again exceeding all expectations. They were: Christopher Gillespie who almost brought the house down with his rendition of “What Lola Wants” – Lola being his dog!; Darius Tyrus Epps, a young black actor with uncanny comic timing and a magnetic stage presence; David Moretti, the new guy in the group who defies very deftly every stereotype of gay there has ever been; Ethan Slater, a sophomore at Vassar (!) with a killer voice and star quality written all over him; Keith Miller, a veteran with Dominion who brings an almost naïve sweetness to what is probably the most problematic character in the show and wins us over; and Malcolm Lee, who has a completely natural and unassuming affability about him that is downright infectious. He also sang “Mean to Me” like I’ve never heard it – goose bumps.
Kudos to John-Michael d’Haviland, the music director who kept it simple and elegant, just the way it should be.
That brings us to Patrick Doneghy himself, playwright and the ostensible leader of the support group. He is a damn fine actor with a so-so singing voice. He knows his vocal limitations and never tries to exceed them, but the quality just isn’t up to the rest of the cast. If he does go on to expand this work into a full-blown musical, it might be a good idea for him to step aside and bring someone else in to take this role. It would also allow him to focus his attention on the very considerable demands of playwriting and directing.
I really do hope that Doneghy and the powers that be at Dominion invest in having this exciting new work be filled out to its full potential. The artistic staff right there at Studio Theatre is very good with new play development. David Muse, why not take a look? ………. just a thought. While I’m at it, they might want to consider a new title for the show – “Gimme” perhaps?
One does not often come upon new plays, much less new musicals, with the very clear and present potential for real brilliance in them. Go see That’s What She Sang.
You’ve got 4 more changes to see That’s What She Sang in the Mead Theatre at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC.
It will come as no surprise that Larry gives this our top rating, making it a Pick of the Fringe.