Like Queen of the Mist, this was a dull and dreary vehicle for a fine performer (in this case, hugely underrated Broadway semi-name Sally Mayes) who really deserved better. What it reminds me most of is A Catered Affair, if A Catered Affair was built around a gay jazz club in the Fifties instead of a working-class family: a bunch of unhappy, bitter people who spend two hours doing nothing but complaining about their miserable lives.
It’s possible to make this kind of thing work (Follies famously turned that same formula into a masterpiece), but it requires emotional power far beyond what this little off-Broadway curio is actually capable of providing. The book is not only depressing, it lacks direction, is extremely predictable (one character has a ‘secret’ that everyone in the audience sees coming a mile away), and remains earthbound in its attempts to describe the liberating power of jazz that is supposedly the show’s driving force.
Sally Mayes is easily the best thing about the show, and writing for her seems to have inspired the songwriters, since her numbers seem to have genuine spark behind them, especially her powerful eleven-o’clock number “Brand New Day”. But while her supporting cast is generally strong (especially Michael Buchanan as a fresh-faced aspiring singer), the rest of the score, written by Naked Boys Singing alumnus Mark Winkler and a total of six different composers, is mostly dull, arch jazz clichés that give the performers little to work with.
I’m sure homophobia is a very depressing subject, and rightly so, but there’s a difference between invoking our emotions with an actual portrayal of its effects and simply having a bunch of unpleasant people talk about how much it sucks for a couple hours and calling it a musical. Sally Mayes is, again, terrific, but if you want a recording of an off-Broadway vehicle that really shows her at her best, the criminally underrated Pete’n’Keely is about a hundred times better than this.