"Q - The Songs of Martin & Biello"is a new musical revue from the irrepressible writing team of Dan Martin (music) and Michael Biello (book and lyrics). This completely entertaining evening of 80 minutes brings words to mind such as clever, funny, poignant, cute, sexy, and fun -- because it is all of those things. The musical numbers are deftly linked together by advice from Tipsy, a drag queen who gives us "Q" Tips. If you haven't already guessed it, Q stands for queer -- as we are so enthusiastically told in the opening number - an alphabet song entitled, "Q".
This show received its world premiere at Balliwick Repertory in Chicago, Illinois last year and I'm sure it will be looking for a home downtown in New York within the coming months. (So producers and angels take note.) Although this piece has a target audience, it transcends being just another show for the gay circuit because of its sheer joy. There is never a moment of self-pity or accusation, but rather the whole evening is a resplendent celebration of gay life as a choice. There are moments of doubt, moments of pain -- but they are all within the spectrum of everyone's human experience, and therefore any audience member can relate to it.
Being a former member of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in New York, I noted that many of these songs had been previously presented in the workshop. And it was great fun to see them come to life in performance. On speaking with the writers, they divulged that after the successful run of their original musical, "Breathe" in Chicago, (which won the After Dark Award for Outstanding New Work) they were asked by the Balliwick to put together another show, and so "Q" is actually an amalgam of old songs and new.
A cast of five actor/singers (two men, two women and one guy in drag) plus a pianist fills the small studio space with delicious sound. The performers are enabled in their efforts by their tasteful musical director, Christopher Ertelt, who, like a good painter, seems to know just how much to add to the mix. Sometimes it's not what you play, but rather what you don't play that makes all the difference. Mr. Ertelt was responsible for some of the pianistic arranging while Mr. Martin did all of the vocal arrangements.
Mr. Martin's melodies can be pretty and perk along nicely or they can be haunting and quite moving. For me the musical highlights included, "Life in the Old Girl Still", delivered with great verve by Eric Singel as the effervescent Tipsy; "Table 3" (originally written for a woman but now sung by an endearing John Gaffney) in which a harried waiter has a crush on the unassuming and quiet man at Table 3; "Bi Blues", a very funny number about sexual confusion (a nice comic turn for Christine Barbush); "Song for Joy" (a sweet female duet about young love portrayed with the right touch of innocence by Charley Carfrey), "Q" and "In My Body" both ensemble pieces. Rounding out the cast is Spencer A. Beckett II whose bari-tenor voice added to the poignancy of the dramatic "Making a Man".
Directed by Bill Buddendorf, who's job also included the staging and choreography of all the musical numbers, the piece is sharp and economic -- kind of like a "Lean Cuisine" musical. There's no extra padding here. Movements are simple and mean something -- a lesson that other "so called" directors could take from Mr. Buddendorf. For what you see is what you get. And that means that the audience always knows where they stand. Ah! We never have to turn to our escort and whisper, "What the hell was that supposed to mean?"
The show does contain brief male and female nudity. However, it is simply two, pretty, young people standing and singing without their clothes on in one number, "I Stand Before You". The opening night audience didn't seem to mind a bit.
Alas this little show has a very short run in the Fringe Festival and one can only hope that its next venue will be more of a permanent home.
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