Chicago Theatre Review
Turning Back the Covers
Songs From an Unmade Bed – Pride Film and Plays
Set in a tiny subterranean performance space that’s about as big as a bedroom, two young men, ably accompanied by musical director Robert Ollis on keyboard and David Keller on cello, lead audiences through the highs and lows of a gay relationship. From the moment the audience enters the pre-show has begun. An entertainer (Jonas Davidow and Tommy Thurston alternate in this capacity) stands at a microphone singing from a playlist of Broadway standards. While being seated, the audience will notice Kevin Webb working at his keyboard in his underwear and mismatched socks. Dressed for an evening out, Jordan Phelps is lounging near the in-house bar while enjoying the music and a beverage. After Webb dresses he joins Phelps at the bar and the show truly begins.
More of a musical revue than a play, this song cycle receives a unique staging by director Derek Van Barham. Premiering Off Broadway in 2005, award-winning lyricist Mark Campbell created a special solo piece for that would take audiences on a musical journey through his love life. However, instead of presenting this as a one-man show, the Chicago premiere of Campbell’s work features two young men singing solo, as a musical soliloquy, or together, in a harmonious dialogue. While Campbell wrote the lyrics for all 18 pieces, he solicited the melodies from a variety of musician friends (such as Duncan Sheik, composer of “Spring Awakening”). The result is an evening of cabaret-style tunes that make observations about gay relationships.
Campbell’s lyrics are sometimes humorous, occasionally sad but always expressed with honesty and emotion. Each song is a play in itself. “He Never Did That Before” finds one of the men wondering where his partner picked up his new sexual moves. The melancholy of being alone is found in “Spring.” A sadly beautiful ode to the Big Apple is expressed in “I Miss New York.” The poignant “Our Separate Ways” is a reflection about life inspired by a friend’s funeral. In the honest “An Admission” one of the men confesses his reaction to seeing his lover’s naked body for the first time. In “The Man in the Starched White Shirt” the young man sings about the person his partner becomes when dressed for work. “I Want to Go Out Tonight” is a bouncy anthem to the promise of fun and excitement to be found in a night on the town together. But the crowd-pleaser of the evening is “Exit Right,” in which a young man reminds himself why he should never date an actor.
Mr. Van Barnham makes good use of this intimate space, although a simpler scenic design that employed only the requisite bed might’ve been more effective. The space seems, instead, cluttered with chairs and other furnishings. Using the theatre’s bar feels natural and helps break the fourth wall. Both actors, seen last year in the Jeff Award-winning “Under the Rainbow Flag,” are excellent performers. Kevin Webb brings humor and moodiness to his numbers. Jordan Phelps especially stands out with his J. Crew good looks and a mellow, well-trained voice. In particular, Mr. Phelps understands there’s no need to push in a space where over-singing isn’t necessary and will destroy the beauty of the songs. Some of the show’s best moments are in the duets, during which the two men blend in lovely harmony.
With a favorite beverage in hand, audiences can settle back in this intimate space and enjoy two skilled performers taking them on a musical voyage across the smooth and choppy waters of a gay relationship. There’s something that will speak to everyone in this well-sung revue, and the aspiring cabaret singer might even hear a few songs he’ll want to include at the next open mic night at Davenports.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 27-April 27 by Pride Films & Plays at the Apollo Studio Theater, 2450 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-935-6100 or at www.ticketmaster.com
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com