Dark and clever, erotic and funny, ‘Hello Again’ is a thinking man’s musical
Beneath a streetlamp by the dock around the turn of the last century, a naive young doughboy approaches a lady of the evening. They engage in an acrobatic and explicit romp, but when it’s over, they both seem uncomfortable and awkward. A few minutes later, the soldier is back, only this time he’s a horny bastard who just wants to sleep with a WAC before he ships out to Guadalcanal in the early ‘40s. When the deed is done, he seems satisfied, but she feels rightly used.
And so it goes, crossing nearly a century in Hello Again, Michael John LaChuisa’s sexual operetta where folks — men and women, and sometimes men and men — get their rocks off but are still searching for something more.
If it sounds like your last weekend on the Strip, it’s meant to.
This is a smarty-pants musical, where the central conceit (stolen from La Ronde) requires careful attention: The action doesn’t happen chronologically, and while each of the characters recur in two adjacent scenes, they merely hearken their earlier counterparts; their identities morph across the ages — same name, different situation.
While that might sound not merely smart, but smarmy — characters as symbols rather than real people? — the success of the show rests precisely in its universality. Guys like sex, women like love … but sometimes those roles reverse. Connecting is harder than it looks. (Maybe that’s where the adage “love makes the torture of looking for it worth the effort” comes from.)
But while there’s a doleful quality to Hello Again — and there’s no denying that LaChuisa’s point of view lingers on the lack of sexual fulfillment — the remarkable achievement of this production is that it doesn’t leave you bitter or sad. There’s comedy, sprightly music (though LaChuisa ventures occasionally into atonal modernism) and engaging performances that perk up this still-serious riff on adult themes.
No segment is funnier than the 1960s, when a spoiled, adenoidal college kid (Adam Garst) feigns injury just so he can play doctor with his private-duty nurse (Laura Lites), who cynically gets his rocks off only to leave him humiliated. That scene contrasts to one of the more poignant episodes, the 1950s, where a typical Eisenhower-era housewife (Beth Albright) married to a distant older man (Mark Hawkins) yearns for passion. It has Douglas Sirk written all over it.
Not all the scenes are winners. The 1920s, where a conniving actress (Stephanie Riggs) seduces a writer (Chad Petersen) into getting the script changes she wants, doesn’t work musically or dramatically (it’s thin stuff to begin with); Petersen is better playing the writer in the 1970s, sniffing coke and buggering a club kid (Peter DiCesare) in a disco in the pre-AIDS phantasm of gay culture.
That’s hardly the only tauntingly erotic scene. Director John de los Santos cleverly gives each decade its own sexual energy, it’s own “act” that shows the diversity of sex. There’s fellatio, cunnilingus, missionary, doggie, sodomy, even impotence — it’s as if the Kama Sutra got set to music. (I haven’t seen so many boobs and asses since the Republican National Convention.)
It’s a cliché to describe actors who drop trou as brave, but no other phrase really does justice to the bold fearlessness of the cast, whether it’s Linda Leonard (still stunning past 50, and totally nude) or the vulnerability of beefy baritone Shane Peterman, touching in the closing scene, or DiCesare, perfectly coy as the clueless Titanic survivor. Their energy and commitment are so convincing, they are able to sell every scene and keep the story grounded, even as it could easily disorient you. Sex can do that sometimes. Or so I’ve been told.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 12, 2012.
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