Off Broadway Reviews
No, gay marriage will probably never save New York City from terrorists. But by the time that happens in Fleet Week: The Musical, preposterous events have long seemed the order of the day.
This is a musical, after all, in which the majority of sailors are only gay when they're at sea, a woman can pass as a male despite being seen naked at least once, and the Statue of Liberty is a major character. With solos. And a love interest. Check your common sense at the door, and just ride the wave; it's the best (and, really, only) way to enjoy the show.
The book by Mac Rogers and the songs by Sean Williams and Jordana Williams (music and lyrics) are, as you might have guessed, silly at the expense of all else. And though this story about a group of shore-leave-taking sailors in New York City might bring to mind the classic Bernstein-Comden-Green On the Town, nothing here proves that moving or insightful. You want a basic message? Fine, take away one of tolerance. But don't look for much else other than an escapist good time. And, oh yeah, one great performance.
But you might as well ignore the specifics of the story of Coast Guard seamen Sachs (Brian M. Golub), Stayn (Micha Bucey), Swallows (Laura Perloe), and Ravioli (Christopher Guilmet); it doesn't really matter. They get into a series of wacky adventures as they explore the city, they try to satisfy the sexual and emotional longings they usually have to repress, and they stumble on a plot by two Martinique terrorists (Byron St. Cyr and Brian Karim) to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Of course they have to stop it, but who will believe them?
In reality, this is all a paper-thin excuse for double entendres and naughty songs; without a stronger book to define these characters as more than brightly colored paper cutouts, Fleet Week is left feeling more like a revue than a cohesive book show. One must appreciate the efforts of director Eric Pliner and choreographer Christopher F. Davis to reign things in as much as they have, for the show is never completely out of control. But nor does it bear any trace of the overriding comic vision and precision that set the best of these kinds of shows (like The Producers) apart.
No, everything here is solely for low-budget, low-maintenance fun. Rogers knocks off plenty of choice individual lines (one of my favorites: "No birds in the sky, Tippi Hedren, stop the freak out."), and the sheer audacity of certain songs ("Queer at the Pier" explaining the seamen's sexual philosophies, "Lose It in the Front" for the cross-dressing sailor) makes them impossible not to enjoy. (Daniel Feyer is the musical director and provided the fine vocal arrangements.) But the majority of the material is, at best, functional.
Much the same can be said of the performers. The seamen are cartoonish, hard to root for or care about; their "lovable goofball" personas grow wearying after a while. St. Cyr and Karim are flat-out caricatures as the villains, but it works better for them. Hart and Bruce Sabath, who plays the seamen's Captain, have obvious talent, but also the show's weakest material; their romantic subplot is so underwritten and underdeveloped that it's barely visible to the naked eye.
Yet one actor redeems them all: Rob Maitner. He plays the ship's swishy Chaplain as so flaming that you can easily understand why he spends his life at sea. He incorporates every imaginable gay stereotype into his performance, but does so in a way that makes him smarter, sharper, and far more real than anyone else onstage. He leads his numbers with the reckless enthusiasm of a big-time Broadway star, and delivers more feel-good ebullience than I thought the law allowed. The gay wedding, ahem, climax is a predictable and pedantic roof-raiser, but Maitner gives it his all as though it were the best number ever written.
He's so successful because he anchors himself in reality; the Chaplain is clearly a part of the same wacky, wobbly world as the other characters, and yet he's also clearly a human inhabitant of ours. There can never be too many people onstage, but there can be too few; Fleet Week needs far more than it has, though one is, of course, better than nothing.
If you don't ask much from your musical comedies, chances are you'll have a good time at Fleet Week which, for its problems, plays much better than other similarly styled musicals at this year's Fringe Festival. But even if you're too demanding to be suckered in by layers of makeshift cuteness, this show is worth seeing for Maitner alone. He makes every scene he's in a glittering, gay old time, in every meaning of the phrase and then some.
Fleet Week: The Musical