2 min

Real live hit

A pro at working the crowd, he invites us to get up close.

With heaps of talent and all the power of camp at his disposal, Damien Atkins sets out to explore what it’s like to be a gay man who loves singing songs written for women in this splendidly entertaining marriage of cabaret and confessional.

Dressed in boy clothes – no false eyelashes or foundation here – he questions the meanings of manliness by combining torch songs, pop songs and downright obscure songs with snippets from the life of a boy “with a little girl inside him.”

Atkins and director David Oiye have taken the show up an emotional notch since it was workshopped at Buddies last year.

Atkins refuses to be pigeonholed, embracing instead the “collection of voices inside him.”

And what voices. A lusty songster, Atkins belts and croons with gusto, and his ample cast of characters show off his command of foreign accents; an equally formidable arsenal of facial expressions helps him evoke the high school counselor as successfully as the dewy-eyed starlet.

A pro at working the crowd, he takes advantage of the intimacy of the theatre to invite us to get right up close.

Well-choreographed moves pack laughs into numbers such as “Georgy Girl”, while Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” is pared-down and poignant. An alternately comic and moving account of being bullied at school links to a tour-de-force interpretation of “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair,” putting a spin on the song that’s worlds away from South Pacific.

Atkins suggests show tunes serve as wish fulfillment for gay men – it was all I could do to keep myself from singing along to Flower Drum Song’s “I Enjoy Being A Girl.”

Could any real-life girl enjoy being a girl quite this much?

In the second act, Atkin’s inner little girl goes into hiding as he branches out with a fun set of rapid-fire impersonations, plus songs that tell it from a woman’s perspective. The part of us that wants to know what happens when the boy grows up is left with a few unanswered questions.

But then, this is no cut and dried girl. Combining a variety of perspectives, Atkins paints a picture of what you face when you grow up not just gay, but gay ‘n’ girly. For those of us who endured homophobic schoolyard taunts, this tuneful world of pathos and self-affirmation feels just like home.

* Real Live Girl has been extended until Sun, Dec 23 at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander); call (416) 975-8555.