Boys will be...

Butch It Up

Conceived by Scott Gilmore and David Leventhal
Directed by David Leventhal, music direction by Kermit Medsker
Benefit for NativeAliens Theatre Collective
630 9th Avenue, 7th floor (726-8891)
Oct. 27 and Nov. 3
Review by David Mackler

The juxtaposition of sex roles and gender representation in NativeAliens' production of Butch It Up is inherently part and parcel of the show's clever, if borrowed, subtitle, "Strong Enough for a Man But Made for a Woman." This reversal of the expected and the presented- Whoa! If there ever was a show not in need of deconstruction or introspection, this is it.

Butch It Up is a benefit for NativeAliens Theatre Collective, and its intention is simple. Take seven guys, put them in flannel shirts, jeans, and boots, give each an ever-so-cute lunchbox, and when they open their mouths and sing - yes, they're singing "Where The Boys Are." The setting, such as it is, is a faux construction site, draped with yellow CAUTION tape. Well, caution be damned - full speed ahead!

The songs are heavily tilted toward show tunes, and why not? Christopher Andersson brightly performed the tongue-tying lyrics of Comden and Greene's "If"; the full cast gave the full treatment to "Cell Block Tango," from Chicago; Mike McGowan belted "I Can Cook Too"; and Jeff Seabaugh pined for his "Secret Love."

At certain points in the show, it seemed that the cast was performing in two different aspects. Some were there to have fun - Andersson's rendition of "My White Knight," Michael Beltran's "You Took Advantage of Me," Craig Skelton's contribution to "You Gotta Have a Gimmick." But then there were McGowan and Scott Gilmore mixing acting talent with singing technique in "If We Had Loved Like That," making it a heartbreaking counterpoint to Beltran and Skelton's "Old Fashioned Wedding." Gilmore had a definite twinkle in his eye singing Bye, Bye Birdie's "One Boy" along with the earnest Beltran and the delightful Seabaugh.

Seabaugh, in fact, threw himself so completely into the campy spirit of things that he didn't even take breaks between his turns. Most times the actors sat and watched whoever was center stage (and why not? It was fun stuff to watch!), but Seabaugh was always "on," most irresistibly so. Completely fake and absolutely endearing, he cradled his head in his hands while McGowan yearned for his "Lover Man," then seamlessly began his own rendition of "Secret Love." It was a very sweet moment. Funny, too.

Since the evening's theme was that these songs are usually sung by women, the camp element was king - uh, queen. Sometimes pronouns and lyrics were adjusted to the evening's motif (like Seabaugh's version of "Harper Valley PTA") but more often the songs were performed as written, if not intended - like when Skelton let loose with "These Boots Are Made For Walking," with everyone doing a deadpan boogie behind him.

The "11 o'clock" spot was given to Gilmore, who gave a fierce performance of Ballroom's "Fifty Percent." Kermit Medsker was a fine pianist throughout, although his performance of Hair's "Frank Mills" fell a bit flat. But there was a piano-bar atmosphere going, with a definite feeling of friends performing for friends and supporters - so feel free to clap along with the cast on "Make Your Own Kind of Music." A good showcase of talent too - most of these actors were in NativeAliens' recent Macbeth. And rarely has so much been done with so little - except for their lunchboxes, the only props showed up in "Gimmick." Well, don't you always carry your trumpet and magic wand with you?
Box Score:

Conception: 1
Directing: 1
Performance: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 David Mackler