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Slut

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Oh, the tricks that time can play! As a few hours can change a soulmate into a has-been, so can a couple of years change a hit show into a mediocrity. Such is the case with the musical Slut, which once seemed like a one-night-stand with true long-term potential, but that now is barely satisfying company for a single evening.

You should know it's less theatrical intoxication that's to blame for the musical's greatly diminished attractiveness than the application of too much unnecessary cosmetic surgery. These results have come about, as is so often the case, with only the best of intentions: Authors Ben H. Winters (book and lyrics) and Stephen Sislen (music and lyrics) have tried to hammer out the deficiencies the show displayed as a sell-out smash at the 2003 Fringe Festival, but have instead repaired too much of what wasn't broken.

The show in its original form thrived on the raw vitality of its mostly untested cast members, whose youthful exuberance gave it the feeling of a modern, post-adolescent morality tale. While it had a quirky, volatile quality about it, it nonetheless managed to have a heart, a soul, and a constantly quivering funny bone that made it - if imperfect - an energetic joy.

Now, it's drowning in earnest ennui; Sislen and Winters have so polished and refined the show over the past two years that it's no longer effective as either a mod musical comedy or a cautionary tale about the growing up that even adults can't always escape. The show's also not dirtier now than it was - the title has always been a cheeky misnomer - but cleanliness is not next to godliness when you're chin-deep in soap.

The basic premise is unchanged: Adam (Andy Karl) is a notorious player who manages to sleep with countless different women and never pretends he's interested in more than one-night stands. In an attempt to cheer up his friend Dan (Jim Stanek) after he fails to pass the last of his exams to become an official doctor, Adam takes Dan out on the town, where they both meet - and fall for - up-and-coming rocker Delia (Jenn Colella). This sets off a chain reaction of events that leads Adam on a solo sleep-around-the-world tour and Dan to an Adam-like life of debauchery.

But Adam has been rendered nonsensical with the removal from the show every trace of the unplanned pregnancy that originally shoved him into adulthood. Now when this turnabout happens (unconvincingly, I must add), it's because the writers have demanded it, not for any dramatically compelling reason. Thus, the play is reduced to a pallid love triangle that's not pointy enough to stick with you; seeing how Delia attempts to balance fame and feelings for two different men is much less interesting than watching how these people's youthful hedonism is sacrificed in favor of more adult responsibilities.

If the score is also considerably different now, it still pleases, though it no longer thrills. The music (orchestrated by music director Eric Svejcar) works in rock modes of alternately soft, hard, and pop varieties: The best numbers include the tribute to "Slutterday Night" on the town; "True Love," for two parents who advocate an unusual amount of honesty in relationships; and "Lower the Bar," the philosophy of bartender Lily (Harriet D. Foy), who urges Adam to set his goals low enough to always reach. But the more character-driven numbers don't help the performers unlock any verve hidden away inside.

Unfortunately, there might just not be much for them to unlock: Andy Karl, late of Altar Boyz (and much better there than here), gives a mannered, restrained, and thoroughly unsexy performance that makes you wonder how Adam managed to score with one woman, let alone hundreds. Jim Stanek is a one-dimensional bore as Dan, and doesn't believably pull off his important mid-show transition. Colella's voice is ideally suited to her heavy-rock songs, but she seems to be playing at playing Delia instead of trying to make her human.

Foy's a pleasure as the bartender, but David Josefsberg does the show's best work as a white wannabe rapper named J-Dogg and a music exec who wants Delia to go all the way, in her career and with him. Josefsberg is a riot in each role, finding all of his laughs (and some his castmates couldn't locate with a divining rod) and effecting such a winning combination of willful reserve and erotic swagger that would probably make him an ideal Dan.

The direction (Gordon Greenberg) and choreography (Warren Carlyle) are both lackluster, and don't do much to help the cast or the audience toward a zestier evening. The physical production, though, is solid: Beowulf Boritt's red-brick bar set, Anne Kennedy's revealing costumes, and Jane Cox's disco-dive lighting all set the ideal atmosphere for the show this show used to be.

But bereft of excitement and purpose, this Slut is frustratingly impotent. Winters and Sislen should be commended for the show they had in 2003 and their willingness to reexamine it. If their willingness to unrework it is as strong, they - and audiences - may yet attain the fully electrifying hit they deserve. I wish them well, but if they stray much farther from the path, I might have to take a cue from Adam and admit that "I'm probably not gonna call."

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Slut
Through November 13
Running Time: Under two hours, including one 15 minute intermission
American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, 4th Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge