I think the word is schlock.
Alley Cats the musical (which runs at Vogue Theatre until Nov 12) is scant improvement on Alley Cats the workshop (a test run that fell flat last year).
In fact, the disproportionate amount of talent and money that has since been shoveled into BK Anderson and Kathryn Zemliya’s storyline only serves to highlight, by contrast, the lame lyrics and pointless plot that serve as this musical’s girders.
For the uninitiated, the story-such as it is-goes like this: Young Felicia (played by the show’s saving grace, Cailin Stadnyk) returns home from New York, where her dancing career hit a dead end. Felicia is coddled by her two lesbian moms (ex-nuns) who run a ministry devoted to protecting… alley cats!
The tension continues to mount: Tad (ex-ballet god Rex Harrington) scampers about as though Harrington’s dance career were somehow a joke itself. Tad runs a wrecking company called Men with Balls (tee hee) that is preparing to knock down everyone’s home for a super-dyke named Hilda (played by a super-dyke named Lea DeLaria).
Hilda needs the land to build a giant coffee shop that will supposedly solve all her financial troubles. Civic conservationists (including Felicia’s nun moms) protest. Etc.
If the story seems uselessly convoluted, you may rest assured that the songs leading us through these plot points are so simple they make the Happy Birthday tune look like a Cole Porter track.
The most complex thing about Alley Cats is its advertising campaign. Somebody, somewhere, poured a great deal of money into this one.
Originally slotted for a debut at The Centre for Performing Arts, Zemliya says that “scheduling conflicts” and cost concerns meant Alley Cats had to roam awhile before setting up shop at the Vogue Theatre.
Alley Cats now has the distinction, in fact, of being among the final shows performed at the Vogue before the cultural landmark, which has been sold to Gibbons Hospitality Group, is gutted and transformed. The theatre’s general manager, Jon-Paul Walden, who has come to think of the Vogue as “an artistic town hall” for Vancouver, is dismayed by the new owner’s plans to transform the Vogue into a dinner theatre-style venue.
Likewise, if Alley Cats is any sign of things to come, queer theatre as we know it may be going the way of the dodo. Is banality the tradeoff for well-funded shows? Do we lose our queer edge when we gain a glossy program?
“The show was never conceived as a risqué thing,” says writer-producer Zemliya. Of course. Why should queer theatre be risqué? It’s not like theatre is supposed to challenge us, after all.
“There are no guys walking around in assless chaps,” says Zemliya with a laugh. To which I can only respond: why the fuck not?
Bring on the assless chaps! Bring on the giant talking foam vagina performance pieces of yesteryear!
Alley Cats does have star power-Rex Harrington and Lea DeLaria were veritable coups that had many queers a-twitter over this show-but names do not a musical make.
Besides which, DeLaria seemed almost embarrassed to be in this show on opening night. The celebrated singer and stand-up comic spontaneously broke character about 10 times during the evening to make jaded asides to the audience. A tactic that garnered some laughs but put off the rest of the cast and killed what little momentum the show had been able to muster.
Of all the songs, two work. I Wanna Dance, sung by the lovely Cailin Stadnyk, made one feel transported (for a moment) into some other, more polished musical. And Through Thick and Thin (a duet for the nun mums) receives an honorable mention for having the show’s only clever line: the phrase “thick and thin” starts off referring to religious solidarity and evolves into a clever reference to Sapphic delight.
But the delights weren’t plentiful enough to keep everyone in their seats for the second act. One famous local drag queen bolted during intermission. Commenting on the pouring rain she said, “It’s almost reason enough to go back inside. Oh, wait, there’s a taxi!” A puff of glitter and she was gone.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Alley Cats was present one year ago, when I interviewed Zemliya about her workshop production. She told me then that, in Alley Cats, “the whole world is queer and no one’s asking why.”
But what does that mean? What does that tell us about our post-Stonewall, post-AIDS, post-modern identities-and our sexualities, so fucked up, so wonderful, so all-consuming?
Even if the whole world were queer, we still need to keep on asking why.