“Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway” by Steve Berman from Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers (Lethe Press, 2014).
Let me get this out of the way right now: I don’t like musicals.
There’s just one small problem with the above statement, and that’s that it’s incomplete. It’s the way my brain always insists on stating it, but if I’m being truthful the sentence should read “I don’t like musicals…except for the ones I’ve seen.”
I don’t know why it is that, encountering a new musical, I assume I will dislike it. I grew up with parents who loved the form, and we went to see many of the Broadway tours that came through Chicago – Sweeney Todd, Hello Dolly!,The King and I, The Pirates of Penzance, Jesus Christ Superstar, Oliver!, Camelot, the list goes on and on.
I was a technical theatre major in college (or as one of the characters in “Gomorrahs of the Deep” terms it, an ‘ersatz thespian’). Among other things I worked on a production of Carousel alongside Dennis Milam Bensie, author of One Gay American and Shorn: Toys to Men. Actually, that show is an excellent example of why I default to hating musicals. (Nothing personal, Dennis.) After graduation I worked in the business professionally for two decades. In 1996 I was part of the team from Stage One: The Louisville Children’s Theatre that premiered Newberry Medal and National Book Award winner Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins a (a play with music) and then brought it to the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street.
Still, when I heard there was going to be a musical included with the stories in this collection, I was less than thrilled. This story, however, turned out to be a delight.
Greg’s boyfriend Hugh is prone to hatching over-the-top ideas when it comes to school projects. Greg has the unenviable task of reining him in without hurting his feelings. This time, Hugh’s bright idea for his oral presentation in English class is to explore the homoerotic undercurrents in Moby Dick. It’s actually Greg who—jokingly—suggests it should be a musical.
What ensues is hilarious. Think the musical episode of a television series. “The Drew Carey Show” and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” immediately come to mind. Or the series “Fame”. This story feels like that. The emotions of the main characters are realistically drawn as they move through their day, but when they break into song and are joined by various chorus members, the melodrama quotient skyrockets. A parade of jocks slap locker doors as they make an entrance for one scene; a hall monitor tears up after Greg, realizing that he must put aside his reservations and support Hugh in this crazy enterprise, breaks into song; and things are constantly tossed into the air only to, of course, land perfectly.
Through it all, Hugh makes his point about what it’s like to grow up looking for role models within the culture, but be forced to settle for deciphering coded messages like Melville’s subtext in Moby Dick instead.
It would seem that, from this point forward, I will have to say “I don’t like musicals except for the ones I’ve seen…and read.”