"Before we begin, we must inform you that the Coalition of Christians has rated our show 'flaming'. This doesn't mean we condone or encourage the homosexual lifestyle. It just means that if you enjoy our show, you'll end up burning in hell right next to us."
I know the Gay Gods of Olympus (the gym, not the mountain) will probably strike me down as I write this, but I've actually never seen an episode of Glee. I know, I know...finish gasping and pick your jaw up. It's not because musicals aren't really my thing (it's one of the genes I didn't get); while I'm no theater expert, I can enjoy a good song and dance if I'm in the right mood, ala Jennifer Hudson's cathartic performance in Dreamgirls (although usually I'm a lot more Les Miz than Cats). The Glee omission wasn't intentional--with so much TV time already scheduled, I missed the beginning and never found the time to catch up. Hopefully a full Season 1 viewing is in my near future.
In the meantime, I was able to see a big gay musical called, um, The Big Gay Musical (okay, I'll say it: redundant?). Co-directed by Casper Andreas (who also helmed indie gay-themed efforts Between Love & Goodbye, A Four Letter Word and Slutty Summer) and writer Fred M. Caruso, the film is half musical and half dramedy, focusing on the efforts of a group of New Yorkers performing an off-Broadway production called Adam & Steve: Just the Way God Made 'Em. Half of the film presents scenes from the musical, while the "in between" parts give us a glimpse of a few performers' lives behind the curtain--and it's the time spent in the "real world" that I enjoyed more.
The two leads on and off stage are Paul (Daniel Robinson) and Eddie (Joey Dudding), a.k.a. Adam and Steve. Both young and gorgeous (like the rest of their cast mates), they somehow haven't found luck in the love department, a plot point you'll just have to suspend your disbelief on. Paul's current relationship soon goes south (in a subplot the film fumbles), sending him into a bout of depression and a slut phase. That includes an incident with a hustler played by porn star Brent Corrigan--and believing that Paul would ever have to pay for sex is the single most impossible pill this film asks you to swallow ("You hired a hustler and you just cuddled with him?! And you thought bottoming for a bottom was pathetic...").
Like the rest of us, Paul just wants to have a husband, 2.5 kids, a dog and house in the Hamptons. "I don't want to be a slut like everyone else...I want sex to be special, to mean something," he says. "I'm just trying to figure out who I am, and sometimes when everyone around you tells you you're supposed to be something else, you start to think you are...I just want to be loved!" Impressionable Eddie is in a different boat--the virgin is excited for his big break on stage, but pressures to conform to a gay stereotype (and his newfound liberation) sidetrack him. He also worries about the arrival of his religious parents--who don't know that he's gay. He heads to the bars for a release, where some destructive behavior forces him to grow up fast: "Why does being gay have to be this hard?!"
Their personal struggles are mirrored on stage, where the campy Adam & Steve gives us a slightly altered take on history--complete with skimpy outfits, bulging biceps, rock-hard pecs and chiseled abs (phew, is it getting warm in here?!). You see, "in the beginning, God created the angels--and they were hot!" Next came Adam and Eve, but God soon grew tired of them so he created Adam version 2.0--and he also wanted a more sensitive Adam, so he created Steve. Mischief ensued--including Cain killing Abel for singing a showtune and momma Eve writing the Breeders' Informational Book of Living Examples "to teach our descendents to hate the gays!"
We fast-forward to a modern-day version of the couple, who experiences more prejudice at the hands of Steve's evangelical aunt and uncle. They run the Foundation Against Gayness Society, which sponsors a camp retreat to "cure" homosexuals of their sickness (one boot camp march: "Looking at men makes us sick! We don't want to suck on dick! Sound off!"). Along the way, we get a bevy of booty shaking and more suggestive singing, including a lyric that rhymes "orator" with "master (blank)" as attributes of God, a flamboyant creature wearing a giant sparkly "G" around his neck (and played by Steve Hayes).
There are more eye-rolling encounters at Mostly Sondheim, the bar-based show that Paul helps host on his off-days. One performer sings about "Fernando the Espresso Man, I love him a lot, a lot, a latte! Fernando the Espresso Man, he fills my coffee with his cream!" And Paul sings what is perhaps the show's signature song ("I Wanna Be a Slut!"), where he spews forth a series of lines that you may initially groan at--but the weight of their combined stupidity may eventually have you waving your white flag as you succumb to the silly ("You be the grill and I'll be the meat", "I'll be the harbor and you be the fleet", "Call me Maxwell I'm good to the last drop"...alright already! Maybe I smiled once...).
In case you haven't realized it yet, The Big Gay Musical is a little obvious and easy with its dialogue in both stories, whether it's making a salacious zinger or trying to be sincere as it shares the struggle many gay men face ("I just wish there was a cure!"). I'm amazed it was filmed so recently--it feels like something from 1988, and there's nothing really new, fresh or intelligent it has to say with its musical numbers. To be fair, that might not be a valid expectation--but even then the songs as a whole aren't very daring or memorable.
The Big Gay Musical plays it too safe and (oh lord, am I really saying this?!) straight, especially in the musical within the movie. The final number in particular is a huge drag (I'm on a role!), a tedious number that slows down some of the film's momentum--and leaving us with very little of the "real life" story that is far more interesting. The ending doesn't do enough with the payoff scenes behind the curtain, even if the conflicts are wrapped up too easily.
All of the on-stage songs appear to be lip-synced to a pre-taped track; add some canned audience laughter, and it takes away from the film's effect. Even the off-stage drama feels a little too manufactured, with exaggerated characters highlighting the script's deficiencies. I was particularly annoyed with the David (Jeff Metzler) character, who seems a little too irresponsible even by 1988 standards ("It's just sex...it doesn't have to be special!"); ditto Eddie, who is a little too naïve to take seriously ("Safe?" and "But I thought he liked me!" being two prime examples).
Along the way, we also get the requisite gay film clichés, including references to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, a suggestive banana scene (do you know how to pull the skin back?), online hookup humor, tense HIV testing and yes, even a steam room scene at the gym. There's also plenty of grown-inducing dialogue--if the sampling above isn't enough, how about this exchange:
Paul: "I try and look for a healthy, monogamous relationship or someone to spend my life with, but I always end up getting fucked...and not in a good way!"
David: "That's why I don't do the 'love' thing anymore--it gets too complicated. What you need is to get fucked...and in a good way!"
Seriously, guys? I can't even use that expression when I'm being sarcastic with my friends...it was played out long ago. Overall, Musical feels to too "on" and affected even when it isn't in stage mode--a sharper contrast in tone between the two stories would have made the film far more compelling. Still, I started to enjoy it a lot more about halfway through when I started to fall for Paul and Eddie's charm and invest in their stories. That's mostly due to the likable performances of Robinson and Dudding, who aren't asked to do much besides look pretty and sound good. It's their charisma--and my weakness for a good old-fashioned love story--that gives the film its true pulse.
Musical is very cute, but not very clever. It certainly looks polished and is made well, a stamp of enthusiasm accompanying each scene. It just wants to have fun...is that so wrong? [/ Harvey Fierstien voice] And if you're a fan of gorgeous, half-naked men showing off their assets (including some tasteful yet steamy sex scenes), who am I to stop you from enjoying it?
The disc provided for this review was a screener, so we'll wait on issuing a final quality rating on the anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. [Updated 11-8-2010, the image looks the same] No major problems, and a lot of the picture shows nice detail. The stage scenes are a tad soft, and some of the darker behind-the-curtain scenes suffer from oversaturated colors and poor black levels. But overall, nothing to warrant a concern for those interested in purchasing it.
The 5.1 track comes off a bit stronger, sometimes too strong. Lots of nice details are used in the rear channels, but a few scenes in crowded settings are a little too powerful and overshadow the dialogue. Again, this is a very minor concern and not worth worrying about.
This screener disc had no extras, but the final product apparently has what sounds like a decent collection: deleted scenes, the full musical Adam & Steve: Just the Way God Made 'Em, an audio commentary (with directors Casper Andreas and Fred M. Caruso, star Daniel Robinson and editor Alex Hammer) and a "making of" featurette--all of which I would love to see and listen to, and which could easily up the overall value of the package.
Updated 11-8-2010: The final pressing of the disc has arrived, and the bonus features are a solid collection. The most interesting addition is the full, uninterrupted musical Adam & Steve: Just the Way God Made 'Em (44:20), which includes deleted scenes and songs along with footage from the film. This bonus feature comes with a note that some previously deleted sections and songs have not been edited for sound nor fully orchestrated; save for a brief static hiccup at the 31:56 mark, I noticed nothing major that detracted from my enjoyment. While I'm not fond of the canned laughter that accompanies the musical (and that drab grey curtain on stage is kind of a drag), seeing it in full enhances the "film experience" nicely. This allows the musical to breathe without being interrupted by the other stories taking place off stage, and it's easier to surrender to its charm when it's not fed to us in little chunks. It also allows the material to have more impact--even though this is a "silly" musical on the surface, it has some serious underlying issues that speak to many truths that need to be faced on a national landscape. This bonus feature allows the material to have a little more power and meaning. As for what's new, we spend some more time with the preacher couple (I was particularly taken with Patty's uncomfortable pronunciation of the word "homosexual"), along with the camp counselor and the guardian angel.
The behind the scenes featurette (6:32, in slightly lower quality video) is a quick look that combines raw footage with brief interviews with the cast and crew (it also includes a few outtakes, which I wish were included separately and in greater amounts). The themes of coming out, safe sex and knowing who you are/finding yourself are touched upon, and we get a few cute moments with the musicals choreographer and some of the dancers, along with a straight gaffer named Boris.
Co-director Casper Andreas returns for the IMGay.TV Interview (7:58), where he's interviewed by Kelly at the 20th Annual Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. He touches upon his other works, his history in the industry and the challenges of working with small budgets. The trailers for his five films (including the upcoming Violet Tendencies with Facts of Life alum Mindy Cohn).
Rounding out the package is the feature-length audio commentary with the aforementioned group: writer/producer/co-director Fred M. Caruso, producer/co-director Casper Andreas, actor Daniel Robinson (Paul/Adam) and editor Alex Hammer. This is a lighthearted, fun listen filled with laughs and plenty of info on the making of the film. The small budget is a frequent source of material (including the Styrofoam stage!), as is the copious amounts of skin on stage. The four men have a nice rapport and play well off each other, making for a comfortable listen (because he was appearing in A Chorus Line at the time this track was recorded, co-lead Joey Dudding was unavailable to contribute). Caruso notes he wrote the actual musical (not the film) some eight years ago, but the project never got produced. He adds that much of the cast were Broadway performers who hadn't appeared in film before. Hammer notes that it was a tough project to edit given that during the musical, the camera is always facing the stage (one day of planned "crowd reaction" shooting was a bust when not enough extras showed up).
Half musical and half behind-the-curtain dramedy, The Big Gay Musical blends two stories as it takes an alternative look at history while exploring the age-old struggles gay men face for love and acceptance. Ultimately, it's very cute but not very clever. The characters and humor are a little too easy and obvious, and nothing about this effort feels timely (if you told me it was made in 1988, I'd believe it). Still, it commits to its purpose like a dog to a bone, and you have to appreciate its enthusiastic stamp of authority. Guys--and Musical--just want to have fun, and who are we to complain if they're half naked and easy on the eyes? Most people should Rent It, but if the title speaks to you, the nice group of bonus features help me Recommend this to its target audience.