By Lauren Van Hemert
Here is what is so exciting about the new musical Gay Card. While many shows get developed and have an out-of-town tryout in a large metropolitan city like Atlanta, Boston, or Chicago, this show is making its world premiere right here at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT).
That said, by virtue of the fact this is the first time this show has been fully produced anywhere, it is essentially a work in progress. Thus, you need to be a forgiving, willing partaker and approach this production with an open heart and mind to appreciate just how promising and heartening it is. It’s not perfect, but it is perfectly poised to find its audience, perhaps along the same lines that a show like Be More Chill has.
The hero of this story is Logan Kapler, a college freshman whose housemates have determined he’s not quite awesome enough to be gay. So, he sets out on a quest to earn his gay card and figure out who he is. Luckily for Logan, he’s not alone. His best friend Melanie comes along for the ride and is determined to come up with a plan to help Logan fit in. The problem is that getting what he wants and living the dream just might come at too high of a cost for Logan.
As the Managing Artistic Director for NRACT, Timothy Locklear is not afraid of a challenge and has taken some bold risks. So, it seems that Locklear, who is nurturing and supportive of young talent, is the perfect person to direct the world premiere of this show. Here he has assembled a young, energetic, and enthusiastic cast who, much like the ensemble of the Broadway musical The Prom, have wholeheartedly committed themselves to selling this funny and worthy story. The big ensemble numbers work well and showcase the raw talent onstage.
Collin Dunn’s portrayal of Logan is so blundering and gawky, it’s sometimes painful to watch. His onstage chemistry with Shane de Leon, who plays Logan’s love interest Graham, is palpable. The only question is perhaps why is Graham so drawn to Logan? After all, Logan is nothing but a “poser, liar, or ass” for a good part of the show. He’s far too shallow and fixed on himself to notice anybody else’s feelings or point of view. On the other hand, Graham is the most interesting, complex character of the piece, and de Leon’s performance is insightful and genuine, less of a caricature than most of the others, which is refreshing.
And herein lies one of the issues with the script that may need attention. Ryan Korell and Jonathan Keebler said on the RDU on Stage podcast last month that they set out to write a show wherein they not only saw themselves onstage, but also in which a gay character was the leading man, not a supporting character, sidekick, or best friend, but the lead. Admirable intentions for sure, but why then pander so much to stereotypes? There are sweet, unpretentious moments sprinkled in throughout the show, that sneak up on you and remove the predominating veil of sex, drugs, and kids behaving badly to reveal its genuineness. However, there needs to be more of a balance between those real moments and the foolhardy ones. The characters, particularly Logan, need more dimension and depth for audiences to become fully invested and engaged.
That is not to say that what Korell and Keebler have conceived isn’t viable. It is indeed. Their words and music are lyrical, at times anthemic, and intelligible, much like that of the award-winning songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman). So, it’s somewhat exciting to be among one of the first audiences to experience their work, albeit a work in progress.
It is significant that this world premiere is happening here and now. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which was the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement. We are also living in a state where non-discrimination protections are continually being threatened. Locklear understands how theater can combat inequity, spark dialogue, and inspire change. He should be commended, not derailed, for his diligence in taking risks, fostering new talent, and presenting a season of thought-provoking shows that felt both current and timely.
Gay Card runs through Sunday, June 23rd at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. For more information visit: http://www.nract.org/shows.