Thomas Burns Scully
In an early episode of the excellent British sit-com ‘The IT Crowd’, the characters end up going to a gay musical called ‘GAY!’, filled with gay-centric humor and raging 80s gay-archetypes. The night devolves in to hilarious misunderstandings, and the episode gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on. However, the joke within the show is that the musical is not that well-written, and is capitalizing on shock value and a right-on audience of those familiar with the gay scene. The other night, I was worried that this was the show I was going to see. A cabaret-musical called ‘The Engaygement’ at the Metropolitan Room by David Auxier-Loyola. It’s the usual pre-show reviewer nerves: Am I going to have to sit through something I’m going to slate later? Am I going to be awkward and uncomfortable knowing that some of these people know that I am here to judge their talents? Am I going to end up in as mad cap a situation as Moss and Roy from ‘The IT Crowd’? However, I am quite pleased to report that ‘The Engaygement’ is not a ball of ear wax. In fact if it were made out of wax at all, it would be beeswax that could serve as a suitable candle that would shine affably in to the long night. Highly serviceable, well-written and fun. Perfect, no, but a much better than average take on the subject matter, and definitely worth a look. Let us delve deeper.
‘Engaygement’ follows two gay men (played by David Auxier-Loyola and Seph Stanek) as they negotiate the New York gay scene, find each other, fall in love, and go through the trials and tribulations of their relationship. They are accompanied and helped on their way by their friends, two further gay men of different descriptions (played by Chris-Ian Sanchez and Elliott Mattox) and a married couple (played by Jason Whitfield and Colleen Harris). As a group they gather round the piano at their favorite bar, sing songs, and enjoy each other. In private moments we see the difficulties of love, how life can shake two people right down, and then bring them right back together again.
The relationship at the core of ‘Engaygement’ is excellent. Stanek and Auxier share a lovely privacy onstage and their duets are often rather touching. You would completely believe them as a couple. With their touching adorkable moments and their sometimes catty, sometimes cutting rows, they are every inch a couple. The writing and the performances come together in such a way that creates utter believability. ‘Engaygement’ also stands out musically. The calibre of singing is incredible. Musically, the show is streets ahead of other shows at a similar level, and would even give certain Broadway shows a run for their money. Somewhere between Auxier-Loyola’s compositions and Mark York’s arrangements, magic happens. The show features harmonies worthy of any of the great composers, and each of the cast’s singers demonstrates abilities that would have musical theatre stalwarts sliding in to paroxysms of weeping inadequacy.
Now, as good as the music is, and it is very, very, very good, I will say that there is too much of it. The show runs to just under two hours, and almost all of it is music. Book scenes are spartan to say the least, providing almost no base to leapfrog in to the next song. This could well be a feature of this format, in a cabaret setting it is, of course, understandable to lean on the musical side of things. But, at least for my part, I was suffering from music fatigue by the halfway mark. Part of the problem is that there are too many similar songs. A few too many laments, and sad songs in particular. I know Auxier-Loyola can write other stuff, because there are some great bouncy numbers in the show. The show’s opener ‘Just Another Night’ had a buoyant, Gilbert and Sullivan feel to it, mixed with lovable gay-lyrical counterpointing. It was fantastic. A little more of that, and a lot less of the other would go a long way to balance out the show. ‘Engaygement’ should run to a neat hour and forty, tops. Preferably less. That’s what the story needs to give it zip. As it is currently, it’s on the long side.
I also have a gripe with the title. Don’t worry, put down the vitriol, I’m not about to come out against gay marriage. It’s just that the story of the play isn’t about an engagement, it’s about everything that leads up to it. To call it ‘Engaygement’ is to give away the ending, and to dampen a lot of the drama that comes from the build up. It would be like calling ‘Les Miz’ ‘Javert Will Commit Suicide After He Learns a Lesson’. The title also doesn’t set the tone of the show well. The story is a ‘Will they? Won’t they?’, but calling it ‘Engaygement’ puts me in mind of a wedding comedy. Which the show is not. It creates a false-expectation is what I’m saying.
These gripes aside, though, if asked to give a ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ on ‘Engaygement’ I would give it a Yay. It more than earns it right to exist and be performed. There’s plenty to like: fun character moments, wonderful jokes, a gentle willingness to laugh at itself, and, above all, a refreshing honesty with its characters that goes out of its way to not push stupid fairy-tale expectations on to its characters. David Auxier-Loyola’s writing is great, he could use a whip cracking editor, but everything he puts in is pro-quality. Duncan Pflaster’s direction is excellent, his work with the cast has obviously allowed them a great deal of freedom, which comes through in easy, lovable performances. Mark York’s musical arrangement is faultless, and it all comes together in an, unfortunately lengthy, but still highly enjoyable spectacle that ranks with some of the city’s best dinner theatre. Worth a look if you like good musical, or a good cabaret.
‘The Engagement’ runs at the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street) through to June 22. Performance dates are: Wed February 10; Thur April 21; Tue May 24, and Wed June 22 all at 7pm. The music charge is $20 (plus a two-drink minimum). For reservations call the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues), at 212-206-0440 or to order online visit metropolitanroom.com.
This preview was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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