Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Oh, Mary… "Little House on the Ferry"

Review by Nic Dris
Photos by Iannelli Photography & Peter Lau Photography

It’s a tale as old as Falcon Studios time. A group of gay friends go on vacation somewhere with hidden dunes, alcohol, and men. Drama happens when a sexy boy gets added into the mix. Said group of friends sleep with each other and knockdown brawls reach intense peaks. However, there’s always a happy ending on the horizon (…after the after-party).

Set on a present-day early summer weekend, a band of friends travel to Fire Island --- a gay man’s Pleasure Island. Leading man Randall (Seph Stanek) is determined to take his relationship to “the next level” with his uptight sophisticated boyfriend Timothy (Sean Loftus). Newbie Antonio (Kit Balcuns) wants to get the entire Fire Island experience and when he spots their housemate, Max (beloved Colton Ford), love strikes a merry threesome tune. All the while, annoyingly acerbic House Mother Donnie (Matt Rodriquez) lives his youth vicariously through this young clan. What good gay farce isn’t complete without the ex-boyfriend coming out of nowhere though? When Randall’s charming ex-boyfriend Key West Jake (Chris Van Kirk) unexpectedly drops in, Randall must decide which of the two is his true heart’s desire! What’s a boy to do when he’s caught between two boyfriends and their hard place(s)?

Little House on the Ferry shares much in common with your typical night out in Hell’s Kitchen. It always seems like a good idea at first until a little while after it’s started. You may even have some fun and find yourself laughing at the silliest things. A dirty gay joke is funny the first few times, but after twenty of them, you start tuning them out. And there’s always the long, painful regret of the inevitable hangover the next morning and you rethink why you went in the first place. As much fun as this little musical wants you to believe the cast is having, Little House on the Ferry is one doomed sinking ship.

Seph Stanek’s quirky and sweetly mixed-up Randall doesn’t know whether to play the faithful, dedicated boyfriend or the passionate, DJing lovesick puppy to Chris Van Kirk’s endearingly sweet Key West Jake. It’s not that hard when Loftus plays Randall’s boyfriend, Timothy, as vain and self-involved as he does. Speaking of lovesick puppies, gay porn’s critically acclaimed Colton Ford plays the usual part he was born to play – a heartthrob hunk of muscular man flesh. Colton Ford’s huge talents are underutilized except when his character Max hums an addictive risqué tune, “After Hours,” where tableaus of various sexual positions are illustrated downstage (to their fullest). After all, what’s a good Colton Ford project without a little group sex?

The hard working ensemble does their best to act beyond their rock hard abs and pop-infused voices while playing their campy stereotypically Adonis roles with stand-out numbers such as the deer-led “Jump That Fence.” A boy band of deer serenade the drugged out Randall to make a decision about the two men in his Fire Island life.

Little House on the Ferry carries club-hoppin' show tunes that you’ll find a hard time thump-a-thumpin’ out of your mind. Their title anthem, “We’re on Fire Island,” showed the ensemble’s own exuberant spirit that was a treat to watch. There were some clunkers that the musical could do without and besides, who needs a song about a “Steroid Queen?” Homage to cult fan favorites like “Grease” is paid with songs such as the silly-school-girl “Did You Score?” This camp piece of work tiptoes on the line of being too earnest with lithe songs like the saccharine sweet “With a Friend Like Me” where House Mother Donnie tries to cheer up Randall. When the musical doesn’t try so hard to be funny and embraces the natural camp of it all, it works at its best.

These men could carry a conversation, but like their meek cosmos --- not very strong. Gould & Wechter’s dialogue carried far too many jokes fueled by endless cheap sexual innuendoes. In the program, there was a Fire Island vocabulary provided in case you couldn’t figure out what really complex terms such as “Bottom,” “Top,” or “Grindr” were. But who needs a vocabulary list? Gould & Wechter’s book stopped mid-action where one character would explain to the other the rules and terminology of Fire Island living. “What’s a ½ Share? Let me tell you!” became the running, tiresome diatribe and dynamic exchanged between these Love! Valour! Compassion! misfit wannabes.

While Wetcher struggled with providing the voices of these men, he even struggled more with providing them a sense of direction. Wechter’s direction left the actors traipsing around the stage with nothing to do (but pat the occasional bottom or four). The pacing for the set changes in between scenes was so awkwardly large that you could carry a full five minute cocktail conversation in between them. Much of the ballads were wrongly played out on the second floor as the ensemble stole the audience’s attention with ballet dance or suggestive sexual staging on the first floor. I’ll admit though --- it’s hard to keep your eyes off an ensemble of chorus boys in speedos.

Considering most of this musical takes place in either a brothel, a townhouse, or a club – the versatile and suggestive set fulfilled its duty to give off a brotherly Fire Island vibe. Leuck’s costume design must have been the simplest job since the boys wore either their underwear or their everyday preppy wear. The clichéd and stereotypically Broadway-styled choreography and musical staging gestures do nothing new to add for the camp factor, except the continual reminder that yes, this IS a gay musical. 

Does this musical know what it wants to be? Not quite yet, but it’s getting there. Clocking in at almost three hours, this musical can’t decide whether it wants to be an earnest classic romantic comedy or a campy, farcical work of fluff. Like its leading man Randall who’s too confused with emotions to make a decision about men --- this musical carries that confusion in its tone. It should learn a lesson or two from its doe-stopping number and jump that fence. Little House on the Ferry is one boat ride you can afford to miss catching.

Little House on the Ferry

Featuring: Seph Stanek (Randall), Kit Balcuns (Antonio), Chris Van Kirk (Jake), Sean Loftus (Timothy), Matt Rodriquez (Donnie), Colton Ford (Max)

Conceived by Robert Gould
Co-Authors: Robert Gould & Jeremy Wechter
Music, Lyric, & Composition: Robert Gould & Robert Arbelo
Directed by Jeremy Wechter
Scenic Design by Courtney Smith
Lighting Design by Kate Febles
Costume Design by Vanessa Leuck
Sound Design by Sean Brennan
Choreography by Sean Roschman
Production Stage Manager: Nicole Gross

Presented at the American Theatre of Actors
314 W. 54th Street
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE FERRY ran through Nov. 20 at ATA.
For more information, see
Closed: November 20, 2011

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