BWW Review: Life Jacket Theatre Co's THE GORGEOUS NOTHINGS: IN CONCERT A Grand Celebration of Golden Age Gays At Joe's Pub.
Heigh-Ho, My Merry Rainbow Tribe! Bobby Patrick your RAINBOW Reviewer here. Putting the silent T in cabareT to bring you all the T...
A workshop, A work in progress, A proof of concept, A musical in development all terms theatre folk like to use that basically mean, "HEY! We think we've got a great idea here!" In the case of Life Jacket Theatre Co's THE GORGEOUS NOTHINGS: IN CONCERT at Joe's Pub Monday night, we have to say we agree; they've definitely got something there. Life Jacket, a theatre company dedicated to creating shows based on real events - a real player in the docu-theatre genre - has delved into New York's colorful and storied, pre-Stonewall gay history to tell the tales of the men arrested in the 1930s and sent to prison on Roosevelt Island (then Welfare Island) for committing 'lewd and unnatural acts which offend the public decency' (New York Penal Law 722, Section 690). Many of the men had been caught cruising or looking like they were cruising, or actually engaging in sex acts in places like the Cortland Street Subway Station bathroom, or were entrapped by officers in disguise, etc, then railroaded through the justice system and sent to prison where they were segregated from the general prison population owing to the belief that homosexuality was contagious (as if!). With many of them serving egregiously long sentences the gays of the gaol did what gays do and made something beautiful out of the worst possible circumstance. They called it THE FAG FOLLIES - A musical show presented at Christmas time for the entertainment of the prison's inmates. Using popular songs of the era, The Follies was a fab musical review of the bawdiest of works by Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin, and others rolled into sketches, skits, dance and drag performances that, had the men not already been in prison, would have gotten everyone arrested.
Life Jacket Artistic Director - Travis Russ and his very merry band of actor/researchers have spent the last year and change delving into New York's queer history through old court transcripts, arrest records, fragments of newspaper stories, diaries, letters etc... basically any historical references they could unearth, about the men of "Damnation Island's" penitentiary and their struggles to keep it gay. But gay they did keep it, making the most of their time, talents and the fact they were a group of gay men segregated but together. Creating an evening based on THE FAG FOLLIES of these early 1930's inmates, Russ and his uber adorbs Musical Director, the insanely gifted Joe Kinosian (of Murder For Two fame) have evolved TGN from last month's "Development Workshop" at Tectonic Theater Project (then under the musical direction of Joel Ripka) and crafted Monday evening's "Concert Workshop" into a frolic through the period that belies but does not obscure it's dark roots. Hosted by the FABULOUS Beth Kirkpatrick, whose opening number made one wish that the all-male story being told will include at least one lady, the concert took the form of a really fun history lecture with Kirkpatrick walking the enthusiastic audience from downtown to uptown stopping along the way to point out the cruise-spots, nightspots and hot stops where the boys of a certain lavender shade would congregate, socialize, drink and, of course, hook-up. Some of the sites, which were adeptly projected onto Joe's big screen, held surprises, such as the Lafayette Baths once owned by the Gershwin brothers no less, the Hotel Astor's bar, written about by Noel Coward, where one half was straight and the other half was "For The Boys," and the aforementioned Cortland Street Subway Station privy that was secretly turned into a police peepshow that got many a poor soul sent UP THE RIVER to Welfare's Penn. With the dark underpinnings of the show and the musical history lesson it conveys one could be left to wonder how Bobby stayed awake through it all, but thanks to a song list that included such fab ditties as; NOBODY LOVES A FAIRY - a number hit out of the park by Stephen DeRosa, Kevin Smith Kirkwood's powerful, rollicking, range-y swing number; TAIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS IF I DO, Joe Kinosian reducing the house to tears of mirth without ever leaving his piano bench with the Eddie Cantor hit - YOU'D BE SURPRISED and then there was Devin Ilaw... Hello, eyes, meet candy. With a voice as pretty as his face, this talented tenor gave out with a WHEN MY SHIP COMES IN (an honorarium to the cruisey, old Marine Bar & Grill) that had the audience alternately laughing and sighing as his notes, his performance, and his dimples softly seduced each and every one.
All of this evening's entertainment was positively held together by the MWAHVELOUS Beth Kirkpatrick who, as emcee, not only kept things moving and cohesive but also, with the help of the Kinosian peanut gallery, really funny. This singing actress was absolutely essential to this Concert Workshop and, as this was our introduction to the lady, you may rest assured, Bobby will be looking for more of her work down the road. It must be said too, that midway through the program, Life Jacket's AD, Travis Russ and company member Harry Walker stepped to the stage to recognize by a special achievement award, the work of Columbia Professor, Dr. George Chauncey author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, a seminal work of gay history and a strong resource for this production. The cast, the music, the history all under the adept direction of Russ made extra beautiful by the music from Kinosian's fingers made THE GORGEOUS NOTHINGS: IN CONCERT one of the finest nightclub outings so far this year and, because Bobby CANNOT wait to see this flower bloom, we give this Work In Progress a full 5 Out Of 5 Rainbows and encourage all out there who love Lavender tales from the past to support Life Jacket Theatre Company.
Life Jacket Theatre Co's Webby Is: HERE
(Be sure to click support and make a donation - no amount too small!)
Follow Their Insta: HERE
Tweet Their Twitterverse: HERE
Their Vemeo Video Life Is: HERE
& Followe Theire Ye Olde FaceBooke: HERE
Pick Up Your Copies Of Dr. George Chauncey's ESSENTIAL Works Of Gay History On Amazon: HERE
*All Photos By Yours Truly, Bobby Patrick