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A CurtainUp Review
This Ain't No Disco
This is a loud, long, and lively musical that its director Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder) keeps moving along from one frenetic episode to the next.
We follow the picaresque adventures of Chad, a young gay man (Peter LaPrade) who is catapulted from street hustler turning tricks to celebrated graffiti artist. During the course of his self-emergence and overnight fame with the help of underground publicist Binky (Chilina Kennedy), he finds lasting friendship with another lost soul. She is the also talented Sammy (Samantha Marie Ware), whose aspirations to be a punk singer and writer of rock songs are complicated by her dependency on drugs and caring, as an unwed mother, for her five year-old son Charlie (Antonio Watson).
Do we worry that Chad and Sammy, those two kids from Forest Hills who remember each other from high school and being together in The King and I, will be able to find success and happiness amid the drugs, sex and the disco beat? You bet. LaPrade, who most recently scored in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, has no difficulty in winning our empathy with a formidable performance as the conflicted, uniquely gifted Chad who is renamed Rake. Ms. Ware has to wait a bit before her beautiful voice is finally allowed to define herself with the aria "I'm a Fighter."
The action is set during the rise of the Mudd Club as its owner Steve Mass (Trevor McQueen) answers the call for a club to serve as a retreat and a haven for those "too ugly to enter" Studio 54. The mostly sung through show's lyrics are occasionally discernible, and the score is comforting in a way that you would expect from its mixture of new wave and rock. While none of arias either demand and command any extended displays of enthusiasm, their interpreters are generally excellent.
The book offers us a bevy of seedy, oddly familiar characters whose history has made them easy to identify. A deadpan Will Connolly with his ill-fitting white fright wig is a ringer for Andy Warhol. Theo Stockman swishes and smirks with alarming abandon as Steve Rubell, the smarmy entrepreneur/owner of Studio 54. His failed and feeble attempts to outwit the IRS get some attention, as does the role of The D.A. well played by Eddie Cooper. Earning high marks among the supporting cast are Krystina Alabado as Meesh and Lulu Fall as Landa/Landon her transgender lover whose romance turns out to be the musical's most (and only) emotionally affecting relationship.
The opera maintains its predominantly. gay perspective with plentiful displays of swiveling and swirling male torsos as choreographed by Camille A. Brown. The production generally fulfills its obligation to afford us the glitter of Studio 54 as well as the grimness of wallowing in the "Mudd." Costume designer Sarah Laux knows the period and it is reflected perfectly and wittily with who wore what, when and why.
Jason Sherwood's setting is the as seen through a myriad of small windows movable tiered grid and scaffolding that impressively serves the glam of Studio 54 and the dingier Mudd Club in Act II. The effect of Aaron Rhyne's projections as seen through a myriad of small windows above and beyond the confines of the stage are often stunning.
Both Trask (Drums, Percussion) and Yanowitz (Synthesizer) afford us their splendid musicianship amongst the other six band members. Decibel levels being what they are these days, Sound Designer Emily Lazar deserves a high mark for not obliterating more than what might be considered essential.
If you are inclined to revel in the vice and debauchery that defined this modern day Sodom and Gomorrah then put your trust in a musical in which The Artist believes "All life is suffering and pain." However, if the essential task of This Ain’t No Disco is to expose something about the era we don’t know, it ain’t necessarily so.
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This Ain't No Disco
Book by Stephen Trask, Peter Yanowitz and Rick Elice
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask & Peter Yanowitz
Choreography by Camille A. Brown
Cast: Krystina Alabado (Meesh), Cameron Amandus (Late Night TV Talk Show Host), Will Connolly (The Artist), Eddie Cooper (The D.A.), Lulu Fall (Landa/Landon), Chilina Kennedy (Binky), Peter LaPrade (Chad/Rake), Theo Stockman (Steve Rubell), Samantha Marie Ware (Sammy) and Antonio Watson (Charlie). Supplicants, Revellers, Mob, Mudd Clubbers & Busboys played by Tony d'Alelio, Hannah Florence, John-Michael Lyles, Krystal Mackie, Nicole Medoro, Ian Paget.
Scenic design by Jason Sherwood
Costume design by Sarah Laux
Lighting design by Ben Stanton
Sound design by Emily Lazar
Projection design by Aaron Rhyne
Musical direction by Darius Smith
Stage Manager: Samandtha Watson
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20th Street
From 6/29/18; opening 7/24/18; closing 8/12/18.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman at 7/21 press preview
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