Friday, April 24, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy at 13th Street Repertory Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy at 13th Street Repertory Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mad About The Boy
Written, Arranged & Directed by Chip Deffaa
Music Director: Richard Danley
Choreographer: Rayna Hirt
13th Street Repertory Theater (50 West 13th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 4/19/15 at 7:00 p.m.

Chip Deffaa conceived this show with the aim of providing a mix of entertainment and education. He wanted to remind people that songs and recordings with a gay sensibility were being created long before the advent of the gay liberation movement. An original 50-minute prototype of the show was seen by nine-time Tony Award-winner Tommy Tune, who encouraged Deffaa to develop it into a full-length show. The new version of Mad About The Boy was workshopped at the 13th Street Repertory Theater with its first reading held on October 31, 2014 and its first public performance on April 12, 2015. This extremely entertaining show features fifteen (15) talented cast members and four new songs written by Chip Deffaa: "I'm Crazy For My Baby In A Uniform," Sidekick," "Ex-Gay," and "You Need To Be Loved To Be Happy." Mad About The Boy is described by Chip Deffaa as a work-in-progress with material still being added to and removed from the show to better improve it.  He is the author of sixteen (16) published plays and eight (8) published books. Richard Danley, the show's Music Director and pianist, is on the faculty of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and has served as Music Director for Peter Duchin's Broadway revues; played countless cabaret shows in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles; and has performed everywhere from daytime dramas on television, to cruise ships, to Carnegie Hall.

Mad About The Boy is a big, gay extravaganza featuring songs with gender-neutral pronouns that can be sung by two guys or interpreted from a gay perspective, lyrics with words containing double-entendre, and songs written by gay, lesbian and/or bi-sexual composers and lyricists. You will be moved by the relatively innocent young man trying to sell apples on the street while being constantly side-tracked by men who burst into song and would rather have a taste of his "jelly roll." You will be ready to march in a gay parade when the cast performs an inspiring rendition of the 1920 gay anthem "Lavender Nights" (a/k/a "The Lavender Song"). You will be angry when a bible-thumping, politically ambitious minister from Tennessee interrupts the rehearsal in an attempt to stop the show from opening in three days and amused when you learn he has returned to Splash over and over again on wet underwear night "looking to see who he could save." Finally, you will leave the musical with a new appreciation for "America The Beautiful," whose lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a woman who was in a "Boston marriage" for many decades. 

Shinice Hemmings, an amazingly talented young woman, led the ensemble in the second reprise of "America The Beautiful," which was an inspirational moment created by depicting Gay Americans singing a patriotic song whose lyrics were most likely written by a lesbian. Ms. Hemmings also hit a home run singing "B.D. Women's Blues," "Prove It On Me Blues," "T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do," and with other cast members singing "Masculine Women, Feminine Men" and "Lesbian Madness." The relatively mature Michael Knowles did a good job performing "The Boy In The Boat," and "Sissyman Blues" but he should have been moved further downstage center since his voice was not strong enough to carry from where he stood. With the mood created by Shinice and Michael, you could imagine yourself relaxing in a Buffet Flat (privately owned apartments in African-American neighborhoods in the first third of the 20th century that doubled as speakeasies and brothels that offered a buffet of booze, sex shows, marijuana and other illegal diversions). 

While there were other female cast members, this musical is really "all about the boy" and as three audience members stated, "the only additional thing this musical could use are "more boys" and "more skin," which Toby Medlyn (who played Reverend Billious S. Love and sang "I Can Always Find A Little Sunshine In The Y.M.C.A.", "Sidekick" & "Ex-Gay") and Michael J.C. Anderson (who played The Brit, Ryan Davis, Houdini, Michael Riedel and one of the Caveman and sang "Let's All Be Fairies") would have been more than willing to provide, right down to their birthday suits, if only they had been asked. Good for them for having the courage to be willing to do whatever the part calls for! The "advice" offered by the "planted" audience members was not meant seriously since Mad About The Boy features plenty of handsome, good-looking young men proudly parading around in their underwear, in swimsuits or in cavemen outfits. 

Just in case you were under the impression the gay rights movement began with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, this musical will adjust your misconception when you hear the English lyrics of "The Lavender Song" (written in 1920; music by Mischa Spoliansky; lyrics by Kurt Schwabach & Jeremy Lawrence) sung by Michael Czyz, Shince Bre and the ensemble in Mad About The Boy. Those amazing lyrics are the following: "What makes them think they have the right to say what God considers vice. What makes them think they have the right to keep us out of Paradise. They make our lives hell here on Earth poisoning us with guilt and shame. If we resist, prison awaits so our love dares not speak its name. The crime is when love must hide. From now on we'll love with pride. * We're not afraid to be queer and different if that means hell -- well, hell we'll take the chance. They're all so straight, uptight and rigid. They march in lockstep, we prefer to dance. We see a world of romance and pleasure. All they can see is sheer banality. Lavender nights are our greatest treasure where we can be just who we want to be. * Round us all up; send us away; that's what you'd really like to do. But we're too strong, proud, unafraid; in fact we almost pity you. You act from fear, why should that be? What is it that you are frightened of? The way that we dress? The way that we meet? The fact that you cannot destroy our love? We're going to win our rights to lavender days and night." Of course the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 ending what little freedom gays and lesbians had during the days of the Weimar Republic.

While different members of the ensemble cast of Mad About The Boy play different roles at different performances, the primary actors at the show I saw were Joris de Graaf, Cody Jordan, Benjamin Grier and Michael Czyz. Joris de Graaf, who is from The Netherlands, was the best I've ever seen him. He sang "Let's Misbehave," "My Buddy," and "Beach Boy." The very attractive and extremely gifted Cody Jordan sang "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' My Jelly Roll," "If Your Kisses Can't Hold The Man You Love," "Puh-Lease, Mr. Hemingway" (with Joris de Graaf), "Do Something," "I Want To Be Bad," and "He's A Good Man To Have Around." Benjamin Grier hit home runs with "I Can't Make A Man," "Find Me A Primitive Man," "I'm Crazy For My Baby In A Uniform," "My Cozy Little Corner At The Ritz," and "Just Some Guy." Michael Czyz, originally from Western Canada, gave us his all singing "Come Up And See Me Sometime" and You'd Be Surprised." Other standout performers were Maite Uzal, Amanda Andrews, John Brady, Al Roths, and Mark Blowers. Other songs included "He's So Unusual," "Help! The Girls Are After Me!", "He's My Secret Passion," "Pretty Baby," "That Old Time Religion," "When The Special Girlfriend," and "Green Carnation." When the CD from this monumental musical comes out, I promise you will want to listen to it repeatedly whenever you get the chance. 

There is no better musical playing in New York City this season than Mad About The Boy. Chip Deffaa has outdone himself this time and while I would tweak the script here and there were I in charge, the show is such a significant accomplishment, that it is more than fine just the way it is. You will want to go back to see it over and over in order to catch different actors playing different roles and singing different songs. If you are tolerant, open-minded and love the theater, this musical is for you. Start your fight for Lavender Days & Lavender Nights by going to see Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy many times during its current run -- and don't forget to wear your green carnation! For tickets, go to

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