Bill Nelsonís All-Male Revue. Book and Lyrics by Bill Nelson. Music by Rob Broadhurst, Will Aronson, Anna K. Jacobs, David Mallamud, Hailey Chang, Niko Tsakalakos, Julia Meinwald, Katya Stanislavskaya, Creighton Irons. Directed by William Finn.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...love me a little bit more than is appropriate."
Bill Nelsonís All-Male Revue is not a strip show, they are quick to assure you. Make no mistake, not even a soul is bared at the Second Stage setting for this one-act musical about Bill Nelson, by Bill Nelson and for Bill Nelson. He is a talent, without a doubt, but he is a young one without that final filing down and polishing that will make him into a first-class songwriter for the musical stage.
Without exception his songs are too long. They belabor their points. Sometimes the points are strong ones and sometimes not. All of his songs, in this revue, are about being gay. Thatís not a bad thing, but the same message gets hammered so often that the nail disappears into the soft wood. And that is a bad thing.
The actors and musical director are what make this show a joyful noise. Four guys, none of whom I would classify as cute, bring cuteness into focus in Nelsonís lyrics. Orville Mendoza, for example, gets so much out of the word "potato" that I may never see one again without seeing his smiling face shining above it taunting me with poisons and passions and curious plots.
Stanley Bahorek plays Bill Nelson in one number, "Would I Do Bill Nelson" and makes it seem possible that the real Nelson, sitting in a chair nearby, might be only a fiction after all. He also loves the hum, he sings, and when he canít have it and is thrown to the wolves, so to speak, he discovers how music can make a hum of its own. Moments like that are really wonderful and Nelson has his talent under control and is making it payoff nicely.
Frank Galgano sings "I Bring the Snacks" and blows the roof off the place and he performs a help wanted ad that is almost funnier to watch than to hear. Moments like this are a tribute to the director William Finn who has also coached Bill Nelson, dragging his songs out of him.
In a confusing lyric in which "Mom" seems to have no meaning (I must have missed something) Claybourne Elder relates a tale of modest revenge and childhood disappointments. He is perfect in all his songs, by the way, even when they drag on eternally.
Music Director Matt Castle often joins in and he takes center stage (accompanied by Orville) on a disturbing ballad entitled "Iím Building You a House Today." He is very good indeed.
Of the composers for this show the finest work seems to have been done by Will Aronson. His tunes are lovely and lyrical and he is able to set Nelsonís lyrics intelligently and intelligibly. Five out of six of his songs are the best in the show. Some of Anna K. Jacobs tunes, mainly "I Bring the Snacks" and "It Canít Last" are right up there with the Aronsons. The finale, "Canít Stop Smiling" with music by Creighton Irons is an excellent song, perhaps the finest work of the lyricist in this eveningís entertainment.
And that is what this show is, an entertainment. You leave the theater having had a good time getting to know a curious guy, a gay man with a message to impart: you donít need to play a guitar to have a wonderful evening and a career. All you need is a ukelele and a lot of support from your friends.
Bill Nelsonís All-Male Revue plays through August 28 at Stage Two on Linden Street, Barrington Stage Companyís other space. It returns for a second brief run October 8 through 10. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888.