I Wrote a Song at The AllWays Lounge
I Wrote A Song, Trey Ming’s 2018 musical, recently returned to The AllWays Lounge. Based on countless true stories, it’s just your average boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-married, boy-looks-at-gay-porn-becomes-a-Baptist-preacher-sneaks-off-to-bathhouses-gets-outed-in-disgrace-tries-a-conversion-camp-comes-out-anyway story. Set to music.
I had seen the original production and am pleased to report that Director Lola Van Ella’s version was a much more polished one. Her staging flowed from one scene to the next, and her talented, hard-working cast all played multiple roles (except for Trey Bien as the main character Gabriel), switching in and out of assorted friends and lovers, real and imaginary, with effortless abandon.
Ming’s lush score is as good as some heard on Broadway these days. Like those, you may not leave the theater humming any of the tunes, but he knows how to craft a song with finesse, a talent that would be even more in evidence in his follow-up musical, 2019’s The Night Fiona Flawless Went Mad, a psychological musical murder mystery.
His book, however, is another matter. In its two-plus hours, the focus remains exclusively on Gabriel whose main and seemingly only goal is to have lots of sex with men. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that (tho Gabriel, with his religious upbringing may feel otherwise, consciously or un- or sub-, a theme that’s only litely explored here), but after a while, it’s just not all that interesting.
We spend more time with Gabriel in junior high school and high school (we get the point that he had a challenging adolescence–move on!) than we do with his wife (Gia Vaughna) of 14 years and his (unseen) children (I had thought the marriage lasted only 2 or 3 years until a line late in the show clarified things). Unfortunately for Gabriel, the men in his life come and go rather quickly, but, due to that, unfortunately for the audience, with no relationship that we can watch evolve, we have no one to root for or get emotionally involved with. The only emotion on display is, alas, unrequited love (or lust); for that, a one-act 90-minute rendering would’ve sufficed.
While much of I Wrote A Song reminded me of a Wikipedia bio, when Ming lets his imagination run loose, we get an idea of what the show could’ve been. A running gag in which a young classmate (La Reina) recites (mediocre) poetry with grand enthusiasm, always beginning with “I wrote a poem!”, is very funny. Ditto Prince Octavian as Host of a wacky game show called “Ass Backward” in which Gabriel always makes the worst life choice decisions imaginable (e.g., “Become a Baptist preacher in NYC”). And bringing Gabriel’s “Pillow Lover” to life is cute, imaginative and insightful. I Wrote A Song would’ve benefitted from more witty touches like these.
Prince Octavian and Trey Bien in I Wrote a Song
As Gabriel, Bien, who bears a passing resemblance to Ming, sang with gusto and demonstrated what a versatile, talented performer he is. I wish we would see more of him in shows by, say, either Charles, Ludlam or Busch.
Reby Rae wisely portrayed Gabriel’s schoolteacher as the sweetest of ladies even when she’s consigning all homosexuals to Hell. Eros Sea, Nicki Nicolai, and Danny Girl as an assortment of porn stars, dancers, roommates and beaus, all added a sexy fizziness to Song.
If Fiona Flawless expertly balanced camp and deeper emotions to piercing effect, I found Ming’s Fairykind (2022) less appealing. Still, it took Verdi and Wagner quite a while till each truly hit their stride. Let’s hope the best is yet to come from Ming as well.
Witch Perfect at Café Istanbul
Witch Perfect kicked off the Halloween season on October 8 at Café Istanbul and what a treat it was. A parody of the cult-classic film Hocus Pocus, you didn’t have to know the original to have a blast (tho if you were familiar with it, you probably had even more fun).
Three RuPaul’s Drag Race veterans starred in Witch Perfect, Tina Burner as Winifred (Bette Midler’s bossy, intelligent character), Scarlet Envy as Sara (Sarah Jessica Parker’s dithery one), and Alexis Michelle as Mary (Kathy Najimy’s sensible one). Together, they stirred up a cauldron of merriment.
Alexis Michelle, Tina Burner, and Scarlet Envy in Witch Perfect (photo by B. Sands)
Camp was served in heaping portions with lotsa jokes about poppers and Grindr and homosexuals in general. Songs were rebranded and so we got “Witches who need (or was it “eat”?) children are the luckiest witches in the world” and “Everything’s coming up Mary!” Kylie Minogue was referred to, accurately, as “The Madonna of Europe”. RuPaul, “Mother” to RPDR alums, got several shout-outs.
What distinguishes Witch Perfect and shows how far drag has come, is that Burner, Envy and Michelle (or do they prefer “Tina, Scarlet and Alexis”?) all have strong voices and immense comic chops. Forty years ago, Witch Perfect might’ve run for years off-Broadway; now, given RPDR’s worldwide popularity, it just finished a tour that included stops in Canada, the Netherlands and throughout the United Kingdom. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t familiar with these three queens before I saw Witch Perfect (sorry, but I’ve only occasionally watched RPDR since Bianca Del Rio’s crowning); I’m a fan of them now.
Adding to the show’s fabulousness were the outrageously well-designed costumes and character-defining wigs. And we in New Orleans were treated to a superb rendition of Nina Simone’s I Put a Spell on You by a guy plucked from the audience whom I’m pretty certain was not a plant.
Written by Burner and creative partner Blake Allen, who also arranged and orchestrated the music, Witch Perfect keeps the laugh quotient high to provide 90 minutes of pure gay entertainment. I hope it flies back to NOLA on its broomstick next year.
Halloween is almost over or, depending when you’re reading this, the witches and ghosts may have already gone home. Out in Metairie, however, the spirit of Halloween continues for one more weekend at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center where JPAS’ production of Young Frankenstein plays through November 5.
Inspired by the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, Leslie Castay directs this musical which features such familiar faces as Scott Sauber, Jennifer DeLatte, Meredith Long-Dieth, Ken Goode, and Charlie Carr fresh off her memorable performance in Spring Storm. Michael Paternostro stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein alongside Adriel Aviles as the Monster. For tickets and more information, go to https://www.jpas.org/performance/young-frankenstein/
After Frankenstein has taken its last bow, Castay switches to the other side of the footlights to play Tallulah Bankhead in Looped at JPAS’ Westwego Cultural Center from November 9 thru 19. Based on a real event that took place in the summer of 1965, when Bankhead required a full day to redub–or loop–one line of dialogue for her last movie, Die! Die! My Darling!, Looped offers a fascinating look at the power of celebrityhood and the weaknesses of one of the biggest stars of mid-twentieth century America. Janet Shea directs. Tix and more info at https://www.jpas.org/performance/looped/
Another view of celebrityhood can be found in Randy Bibb’s 2008 musical Onepiece at the Ty Tracy Theater, November 2-12. A parody of those old Esther Williams/Judy Garland MGM movie musicals, Onepiece takes us to Small Town, USA, where a traveling water show has arrived bringing with it a world famous Hollywood swimming star who will stop at nothing to protect her career. Her longtime manager will also stop at nothing to win her hand in marriage. He finds a teenaged lifeguard at the local swimming pool who just happens to have had twelve years of tap & ballet and let’s just say complications ensue. More info and tickets at https://www.angelfire.com/la3/gumbo_ya_ya/onepiece/index.html
In a more serious vein, The Road to Damascus (as Told by Grandmother to Little Red) by Kathy Randels, who also stars, returns after last year’s run at the New Marigny Theater for two more performances, November 3 and 4, at the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. Odile Del Giudice directs this solo performance piece that uses the story of Saul/Paul’s conversion experience as a call for an awakening to the role the church has played in creating and supporting our country’s inequitable criminal legal system. After its run here, the production will tour to other cities in Louisiana as well as Houston and Shawnee, OK. More info at https://artspot.ticketleap.com/
Keeping with the theme of social justice, The New Orleans Opera Association continues its season with the southern premiere of Blue by Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson. Blue (2020) tells the charged story of a Black family whose hopes and fears are realized as they raise their son in 21st-century Harlem. Blue will be presented on November 10 & 12 at the Mahalia Jackson Theater with music performed by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. For more information, visit www.neworleansopera.org/blue.
The Glimmerglass Festival cast of Blue (photo by Karli Cadel)
You might still find some Halloween thrills and chills in Chalmette November 2-5 when The Company-A St. Bernard Community Theatre presents the stage version of Stephen King’s Misery at The Azienda Theater. In Misery, successful romance novelist Paul Sheldon (Greg Nacozy) is rescued from a car crash by his “Number One Fan,” Annie Wilkes (Jessica Daigle), and wakes up in her secluded home. While Paul convalesces, Annie reads the manuscript to his newest book and becomes enraged when she discovers that the author has killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain. Suffice to say, complications ensue. Tickets and more info at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/77234
On to Thanksgiving!