All This, And Heaven Too
Don’t expect to find Nora preparing to walk out on Torvald or George taking a bead on Martha in Bill Dyer’s ultra-campy musical confection All This, And Heaven Too, now playing at the Macha Theatre. The campiness is something for which the audience is warned early on, as the room-clearing voice of Ethel Merman belting out show tunes on a continuous loop is piped into the lobby starting long before curtain time. This continues on into the theatre and is made more ominous when the show begins almost 10 minutes late, the result something akin to sitting through No Exit by way of There’s No Business Like Show Business.
But wait: granted, there aren’t many artistic revelations in All This, And Heaven Too to provoke your thoughts and stimulate your senses, but there’s a sufficient allotment of heart to make up for it, as well as a lot of groan-inducingly funny (though predictable) lines about the plight of “maturing” gay men, guys who warily read the Times obituaries daily just to check ut the ages of the people who bit the big one. And yes, Virginia, there are even a few well placed tears as this melodically inclined assemblage of Boys in the Band-ish fifty-something men gather in 1986 for potluck at a Judy Garland-infused West Hollywood apartment to memorialize their recently deceased comrade, a seemingly saint-like fellow with the improbably distracting name of Boonie.
Each and every familiar player is here, led by retired chorusboy (Sammy Williams), who right out of the gate throws his back out lipsyncing to Judy at Carnegie Hall while vacuuming the place for the impending onslaught of his loyal coterie, groaning that “I can’t curtsy like I used to.”
Although Terry admits about such soirees that “by the time the guests arrive I resent them for what they put me through,” his air-kissing friends begin to file in and include all the regulars, from Boonie’s former lover (Sandy Kaufman subbing for Steven Connor at the performance I attended), to the self-obsessed gym bunny (Steven Lamar Hirschi), to the former Santa Monica Boulevard hustler reformed by the group’s late lamented benefactor (Chase McCown), to the transsexual disco queen with more changes of sequined costumes than Liza Minnelli in concert (Kelly Mantle), to the wincingly formulaic lovable Mexican queen who knits and pearls and brings along his signature guacamole while he jabbers in a broken English falsetto about shopping at Pic ‘n Save (Charles Herrera).
Add in visits from the dearly departed’s stiff-backed homophobic sister (Katharine Devlin) and then—of course!—the ghost of Boonie himself (James Warnock) has to make an entrance along the way emerging from a heavenly-lit doorway, shocked to find his memorial isn’t taking place at the Hollywood Bowl featuring the Gay Men’s Chorus and hosted by Bette Midler. Warnock, dressed in the requisite Big Daddy suit afforded all resurrected gay stage corpses, then gets to deliver the show’s title song in his unseen limbo state, which features lyrics about meeting Judy and Noel Coward in heaven. Let’s just say, clever though some of Dyer’s dialogue may be, there’s little left to stimulate the ol’ imagination here.
Williams, who won the Tony for his memorable performance as Paul San Marco in the original production of A Chorus Line, has lost none of his impeccable comic timing, but fares best when relaxing and not trying so hard to evoke Terry’s fluttery, eye-rolling and stereotypically tired aging gay man disposition. The beautifully voiced Hirschi is an asset as the resident pretty boy of the group, but never quite rises above his glaring miscasting, appearing to be playing someone about two decades older than the actor at least looks to be. Hey, if this guy is anywhere near the age of the neurotically pumped-up, eye-lifted Phillip, I want to drink from his fountain.
Devlin is heartbreaking in her duet with Warnock If I Could Live My Life Again, especially since Dyer’s book gives her so little stage time to fall into character adequately before, through genuinely watery eyes, she breaks into song to deliver a brief but quietly showstopping performance. Mantle is wonderfully arch and perfectly Eve Arden as the transsexual former auto repair… person?… but could easily lose the continuous aforementioned parade of glittery drag attire which might have been ordered right out of the latest Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog—items probably not all that much unlike the outfits for sale back in 1986 either, come to think of it.
Every cast member in this spirited and game ensemble individually has good moments, notably in the hilarious and promising opening number where the old guys remember a time before their “salad bowls and casseroles” days, back prior to aging into “always groping, always hoping” Trolls.
Sadly though, there’s some inconsistent vocal talent on display in the show’s potentially haunting ballads, unlike when these same actors’ confidence level is buoyed by inclusion in delightfully silly full-cast production numbers, where the canned accompaniment is cranked up to offer pre-recorded support. The same bravado is not apparent in the generally uncomfortably performed solo turns, which leads one to wonder if the production should have had a musical director and not just Paul Taylor, who perhaps tellingly is specifically credited as the show’s choral director.
Dick DeBenedictis’ score and Dyer’s lyrics are brightly tuneful and sometimes even clever and boy, this cast works incredibly hard to make it all seem new again. Unfortunately, Kevin Carlisle’s uninspired and sometimes even clumsy staging does little to help them, nor does his rather leaden choreography add anything to the mix. In more watchful hands, meaning a director who would notice that during production numbers some of his actors are singing directly to the audience while Williams’ wide-eyed attention is aimed above everyone’s heads as though he were still trying to reach those seated in the last row of the Shubert, All This, And Heaven Too could be a far slicker and more forgivable production.
After all, who wouldn’t want to hear again what Coral Browne said when she saw her rival Radie Harris across the room at a London nightclub or what Judy told the sexually harassing Munchkin? Not even Mart Crowley offered us those.
All This, and Heaven Too plays through Dec. 30 at the Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Rd. in West Hollywood; for tickets, call (323) 960-7776.