Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Opposite of Sex

Also see Richard's review of Can-Can

David Burtka, Kerry Butler,
and John Bolton

San Francisco has become the place where musicals try out before heading east to New York, and that's as it should be, since the city by the bay is a good town full of persons interested in live theatre. We have been blessed with pre-New York showings of Wicked, The Night of the Hunter, the new version of Beggar's Holiday, Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance and The Good Body. We can't forget the psychedelic Black Rider, which travels to Australia before the folks on the east coast get a chance to see it. White Christmas with a New York cast is coming in next month. Now we have Douglas J. Cohen's irreverent musical The Opposite of Sex at the Magic Theatre.

The Opposite of Sex is a work in progress and, although Artistic Director Chris Smith says "As they say in show business, it's got legs," it could use a lot more legs before it reaches New York. Undoubtedly, this will get to the big apple sometime in the future and I hope the structure will be better. It seems the musical based on the 1998 art house hit is more artificial than the cult film. Scenes do not flow, and there are jagged edges in many of the scenes. Even the film's droll ferociousness has been softened.

The Cohen musical is primarily based on the screenplay of Don Roos and follows the misadventures of Dedee Truitt (Kerry Butler), a 16-year-old first class bitch of a girl, who, upon the death of her stepfather, runs away from home and settles in with her gay stepbrother, Bill (John Bolton). She becomes very bored and wreaks havoc on Bill's life, seducing his boyfriend Matt (David Burtka). After that, many things happen, including seductions, blackmail, accidental death and a trail of comic catastrophes. All of this occurs within the space of one hour and 50 minutes. It's really just too much as the shenanigans of Dedee become tiresome.

Doug Cohen's score is very upbeat with only a few big production numbers. There is a consistent feel to the score, and it is reminiscent of the style of William Finn. There is a phobic sensibility about the music and lyrics. I had occasion to hear two of the songs at Huffman Hall in New York in June, and those two songs, "I've Got News For You" and "Not Tom," stand out. The quintet number at the opening of the second act called "Dead Ex-Lover" is a stand out also. The L.A. number by the ensemble just does not work, since that kind of song has been done so many times before.

The Opposite of Sex is loaded with top-flight Broadway stars, but many are wasted in the current presentation. Karen Ziemba (Steel Pier, Contact) is Lucia, the meddlesome sister of Tom (Bill's ex-lover, who is deceased). She has several numbers involving duets but nothing very distinguished. Kerry Butler (Hairspray) comes off like a run-of-the-mill valley girl mall brat. She tends to get on one's nerves after a while. This is the fourth time I have seen David Burtka (Tulsa in Gypsy in New York, The Goat or Who is Sylvia, The Play About the Baby ). There is no doubt that this young man is a great talent, especially in playing juvenile leads. In this production he is a dazed young man who finally says, without too much enthusiasm, that he is bisexual. Matt is also one of the most naïve characters that I have ever seen. Burtka has a winning vocal appeal, shown particularly in the duet "Not Tom."

Jeff McCarthy (Urinetown on Broadway) once again is a law officer, and his role is like an extension of is performance in Urinetown. John Bolton (Contact) gives an engaging performance as Bill, and he has a first class voice in his duets.

Local actors Ian Scott McGregor (The 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera, The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek) and Joe Mandragona (13 Hallucinations, Caucasian Chalk Circle) shine as Randy and Jason. Donna Vinino (national tour of Hairspray) is excellent playing various roles.

Staging by Derek McLane is very sparse on a clean box stage. Furniture is easily moved by stagehands. There are stylized projections to give us various locales. The four-piece band under the direction of Brad Haak gives a solid feel to the score. Director Robert Jess Roth needs to round out those jagged edges and sudden scene changes so the musical can flow more smoothly. I am sure that, with time, this little musical will be just fine for New York. At present, it might be more suitable for Off Broadway.

The Opposite of Sex plays at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco through October 24. For tickets call 415-4441-8822 or visit

Their next production, the world premiere of Charles Grodin's play The Right Kind of People, opens on November 13th.

Photo: Bill Faulkner

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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