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Girl You Know It's True; Liberal Arts: The Musical!
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

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Girl You Know It's True

Book: Mark O'Donnell & Thomas

Playwright: Bixby Elliot

At: Pavement Group at

Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.; $25

Runs through: May 13

Liberal Arts: The Musical!

Playwrights: Alex Higgin-Houser,

Brendan Siegfried, Laura Stratford;

Composer: David Kornfeld

At: Underscore Theatre Company at

The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield Ave.; $20

Runs through: May 13

It's always a pleasant surprise for this reviewer to discover LGBT characters in shows that aren't necessarily publicized or billed as "gay plays." This is the case with two current world premieres in Chicago: Pavement Group's Girl You Know It's True by Bixby Elliot and Underscore Theatre Company's Liberal Arts: The Musical! by Alex Higgin-Houser, Brendan Siegfried, Laura Stratford and composer David Kornfeld.

As suggested by its title, Girl… deals with the early 1990s Milli Vanilli scandal when the duo of Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus (hilariously and touchingly played here by Armand Fields and Sentell Harper) was exposed as lip-syncing dancers who didn't actually sing the hit songs that propelled them to become pop stars. However, Elliot skillfully depicts the Milli Vanilli incident in reverse to ponder larger issues of fame and phoniness by questioning how far people (himself, presumably included) would be willing to lie in order to achieve success and stardom.

Hence, Girl… also features an embittered and catty gay Caucasian playwright character also named Bixby (John Zinn), who creates a fictional persona of a Black, lesbian and disabled writer to help make his submitted plays strand out in the theater world. Things go awry when Bixby has to hire an actress (Sam Bailey) to play this fabricated persona, causing him to lie to even his longtime boyfriend, Paul (Keith Neagle).

Director David Perez and his super talented cast have a field day in Eliot's skillfully Pirandello-styled comedy that acidly revels in playing with manufactured constructs of what is "real" in entertainment. Girl… is loads of campy fun, but it also harbors an incisive serious side that keeps this hip and up-to-date play grounded with humility amid its mischievous vivisections of modern-day celebrity and political correctness.

The gay characters in Liberal Arts: The Musical! aren't tortured with bullying or trying to find acceptance. They're just regular guys struggling with the new stresses of college life at the fictional Secular Liberal Arts College (SLAC).

So this matter-of-fact existence of gay characters is something to commend the creators of Liberal Arts, though the inclusion of the over-booked character of Neil (Wesley Dean Tucker) feels a tad token-ish since he doesn't have any dating dilemmas like the other main freshmen characters discovering dorm life in this new musical.

There's a lot of talent on display in the writing and performing of Liberal Arts, though it's not always channeled in the most effective ways in this often hard-to-hear staging by Alex Higgin-Houser. The characters are frequently stereotypical, making you wonder whether Liberal Arts might have succeeded better as a song-and-sketch revue rather than a through-line musical with so many shallow people and so-so plot threads.

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