August 29th, 2005


Fleet Week

I went to New York this last weekend to see the musical Fleet Week which was written by my brother Sean, his wife Jordana, and their longtime collaborator Mac Rogers. Just so you know it's not just me who thought it was awesome, it was well received by the New York theatre press and won Best Musical in the Fringe Festival awards.

I've tried to think of what to say about it, and I could say a lot, but the main thing is this: I am very proud of Sean, Jordana, and Mac, who started with the barest of ideas (a musical about gay sailors in port in New York City) and turned it into a living, breathing American Musical. Musical Theatre has a lot to answer for -- The Lion King, Cats, a thousand bad community theatre versions of the Fantasticks. But at its best it is the Iron Man competition of live performance: singing, dancing, and a play. The best musicals are modern vernacular Opera -- the songs tell the story as much as the book, and the songs uniquely brings out the essence of the characters.

Fleet Week is first and foremost sublimely silly -- the story of young Coast Guard Sailors and their flamboyantly queer chaplain, saving the Statue of Liberty from being blown up by terrorists from Martinique by holding a double gay marriage. The Statue of Liberty has a speaking (and singing role) and despite a seemingly overwhelming mismatch of scale, carries on a romantic liason with the Captain of the Coast Guard ship. One of the sailors is a girl masquerading as a boy to join the coast guard, and is in love with another sailor thrown into a spiritual crisis over whether or not he's gay.

But hey, it's a musical -- the absurdity of the book is a loving homage to the fractured logic of classic Broadway Shows. Each of the songs is in a different style that pokes fun at the stylistic excesses of composers like Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Sondheim, but transcends simple parody by being great songs in their own right.

The Cast was great as well. There wasn't a weak link in the bunch, but I think special mention should be made of Rob Maitland -- the most fabulous chaplain to ever sail the coastal waters. Rob was larger than life in the role, brilliantly selling every joke, singing wonderfully, and being the sparkplug in every scene. But more than that, he fills the role of a proudly gay, free, sexy man with a genuine spirit of joyous liberation.

Melissa Hart (Lady Liberty), who was on Broadway when some of Fleet Week's cast were in diapers, also gives her all to the role, making her genuinely sexy despite having been around the block a few times. Her performance of a torch song (get it) brings down the house. She was Sally Bowles in Caberet back in the day, and if Fleet Week was any indication, that would have been a performance to remember.

The most amazing thing about the show for me, though, was that Sean, Jordana, and Mac really made something that goes beyond what I even dreamed they were capable. I knew they were talented, but they wrote a damn good musical -- two hours, at least 12 songs, hundreds of damn good jokes, and it actually means something genuine. It's not a Message Musical -- hell it makes fun of the idea of Message Musicals -- but the real story of every character is of being honest about who they are and embracing it.

And they dare to be absolutely retarded. They have characters named Seaman Staynes and Seaman Swallows. They give the chaplain a joke about prostate massage. And they tie up one of the characters -- the girl seaman who pretends to be a boy is tied up and carried around for most of the second act, just ... because!

No one knows if they'll get a chance to do another production of Fleet Week, but it really deserves one. It deserves it, and in a perfect world, Sean, Mac and Jordana deserve to become rich and famous for it. If you know any big shot theatre producers, let me know and I'll hook 'em up.