I don’t want to come over all Daily Mail here, but Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s rock musical about gay Catholic schoolboys left me spitting bile. Let’s be clear on this, the cast and crew of the current Union Theatre production are not the ones at fault. They could have resurrected Sir Ralph Richardson and Dame Sybil Thorndike to play the lead roles, and it would still be an absolute stinker. The problem is the raw material they’ve been given to work with.
It simply falls short in every possible way, beginning with the plot. Peter (Michael Vinsen) is a preppy schoolboy in a secret relationship with brooding hunk Jason (Ross William Wild). Peter wants to come out, but Jason can’t face it. They go to a rave with their classmates, including queen bee Ivy (Lilly-Jane Young) and Jason’s acerbic sister Nadia (Melanie Greaney). Matt (Dales Evans), who fancies Ivy who fancies Jason, sees the boys kissing but says nothing. They all audition for parts in a student production of Romeo and Juliet – a metaphor of sledgehammer subtlety. Jason rejects Peter and beds Ivy, getting her pregnant. Peter tries to come out to his mother on the phone, but she won’t hear it. Ivy rejects Matt, who then reveals Peter and Jason’s homosexuality to the class. Jason takes drugs and collapses during the performance of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a sprawling mess of barely-related incidents and plot mechanisms which can be seen coming from a mile off.
The characterisation is lazy and undeveloped, too. There’s a blonde alpha female bitch, a sardonic overweight Goth, an uptight homophobic parents and a sassy black diva – all offensively two-dimensional. Peter is irritatingly earnest and saintly and it was hard to tell what the wild rebel Jason might see in him. As for Jason, his character arc just doesn’t make sense. His numerous metamorphoses from lover to liar to lothario are so inorganic and seem to have been constructed purely to serve as a catalyst for other characters’ joy or heartache. We can’t feel empathy for him, since he isn’t real. Of course, neither is Frank N. Furter in Rocky Horror, or Regina George in Mean Girls, but this show is nowhere near witty or engaging enough to get away with it.
I have to applaud the cast for attacking this thing with as much vigour as if it were the new West Side Story; if it weren’t for the lamentable writing, their efforts might just about have been rewarded. As an ensemble of singers, they are tight and accomplished, at their best when belting out five-part harmonies with clarity and control. Individually, they are less effective. Wild, playing the object of everyone’s affection, is vocally weaker than the other principals, although he redeems himself by inhabiting and certainly looking the part. To his credit, Vinsen does what he can with the terribly drippy role of Peter, and there’s a quite literal ray of light when Hannah Levane appears as a vision of the Virgin Mary and belts out a Dreamgirls-esque anthem, backed by some fiercely-hoochy angels. A couple of the female performers, however, are in dire need of a firm hand on the reins. Young makes a good first impression but descends into overblown histrionics, while Greaney shows every indication of making a fine actress, once she’s learned she doesn’t have to use every facial expression and vocal quality in her repertoire at once, sometimes all in the same line reading.
My main issue with the piece, however, is that it’s a monumental cop-out. I just couldn’t believe that the two leads were really in a gay relationship. Sure, Jason kept grabbing Peter, but it was as sexless as WWF wrestling, and there was more chemistry in a single scene between Jason and Ivy. I also couldn’t believe the “coming out” phone conversation, clearly designed to generate even more sympathy for St. Peter, but so awkwardly protracted and drawn-out on his side that it had the presumably unwanted effect of making me pity his mother. I couldn’t believe how many times a character would look out over the audience’s heads with a meaningful expression and confess their feelings in lyrics both predictable and unenlightening. It felt like someone had found a one-page treatment of a teen rom-com and put it on stage without bothering to flesh it out, and the clear competence of the cast and crew only added to my disappointment that they have so wasted their time.