Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ain't We Got Fun (14th Street Theatre)

‘AIN’T WE GOT FUN!’ no fun at 14th Street Theatre

Halfway through the second act of ‘AIN’T WE GOT FUN!,’ now on stage at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square, a character who is performing at a depression era speakeasy says, "It’s a shame there are so few of you here tonight." Prophetically, the character was correct. The production’s audience numbered less than 15 people. Unfortunately, based on the poor quality of the script, the staging and the performances, not many more should be showing up.

‘AIN’T WE GOT FUN!’ follows the love affair between two young men from Michigan in the 1920s. One, intrigued by a group of men who visit the resort community in which the boys live, follows the fellows to Chicago where he becomes a performer at a gay speakeasy. As happens in all concept musicals, lovers come and go and reunite again.

‘AIN’T WE GOT FUN!,’ was conceived by Michael McFaden after hearing a series of gay love songs written in the 1920s and 30s. He started to develop the show in May of 2003 and by November of that year he had a workable draft. Two staged readings later, one at the Fresh Fruit Festival in New York City, at which the show received the Best Musical award, convinced McFaden that the script was ready for prime time. It is getting its professional world premiere in Cleveland.

I don’t know what the competition for the festival was like, but from my perspective this is not an award winning piece of theatre. The story line is obvious, it contains no high and low emotional levels and much of the dialogue is trite and unnatural. It also plays up every bad stereotype of gay males.

Even if the script was excellent, the quality level of the local production, under the off-key direction of the author, is poor. The acting is mostly surface level, and the vocal abilities of the cast are generally shallow. As the person sitting next to me moaned, "This is pathetic."

There are some positive aspects. Alex Puette as Benny, one of the young lovers, is a good dancer, attractive, a more than adequate singer and is generally believable in his acting. Dorothy Savage is delightful as Chloe, the naive flapper, who falls in love with one of the young men before she realizes he is gay. She sings well and is Betty Bop adorable.

Ian Atwood, as a bouncer at a gay club, sings well.

Rose Leininger gives the right tone to the role of Chloe, when she gets old. Kyle Primous develops some nice choreographic moments, but except for Puette, he is working with performers with limited dancing skills.

Unfortunately, Chad Moore, with a bad bleach job, is physically wrong for the role of Oscar, who supposedly becomes the unbelievably handsome, buffed stud performer of the Chicago gay circuit. He has difficulty with the singing, dancing and acting aspects of the role. Neal Alan Oblonsky, complete with a very bad make-up job, fails to make his role of the Old Oscar credible. Zak Hudak had a few good moments as Miss Amanda Luze, a drag queen, but he needed to be more naturally flamboyant, and less screachy, to make the character soar. The Bearcat Boys, a quartet who both sing and play the role of upper class bon vivants, are generally weak in their singing, dancing and performance skills. Of the trio, only Mike Caraffi developed a believable character, but he had trouble keeping his focus on stage. The technical aspects of the show, especially the scene changes, which slowed down the whole production, were very amateurish.

Capsule Judgment It’s painful to review a show with such few positives and it is even more painful to have to discourage people from going to see a production, but I have to call it as it is and ‘AIN’T WE GOT FUN!’ isn’t much fun.