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Same Sex, Different Gays
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwrights: Beverlee Bailey, Jason Geis, Brad Kemp, Brett Mannes, Amy Rose Ramelli and Patrick Serrano. At: pH Comedy Theater, 1515 W. Berwyn Ave. Tickets: 1-773-961-8214;; $15. Runs through: March 30

Specializing in improv and sketch comedy for a decade, pH Comedy Theater recently set up permanent quarters in Andersonville across from Ranalli's pizzeria and kitty-corner from one of Chicago's queerest Starbucks. Fittingly, they are celebrating their new 'hood, in a way, with an LGBTQ musical revue. Same Sex, Different Gays has many of the ingredients necessary to cook up an airy soufflé of a show—but for several reasons this soufflé falls flat.

The problem is not the concept of the show, which squeezes 15 original songs into a one-hour running time. The ideas for the pieces are good, the lyrics are clever and offer some unexpected twists, and the tunes are varied and solid (although it's unclear whether Brad Kemp wrote all the music or only some of it). Casual sex is treated in "One Night Stand," the pleasures of gay parenting in "Stay At Home Dad," the burn-out factor of long-term relationships in "At First (love is a joy)" and the absurdity of dating in, well, the acerbic "Absurdity of Dating." There's even a through-line for two characters who meet as the "Least/Most Attractive @ Orgy," proceed tentatively to love in "Wait, I Thought" and close the show with a gay wedding.

So what's holding this show back? Well, generally speaking the performers of an improv-based revue double as the writers but that's not the case here. Only two of the six performers (four men, two women) also are among the writers and it shows. In some cases the glitch is technical—a song not in the best key for the performer's range, for example—but more often the performer simply seems awkward or tentative in his/her characterization, not fully in the skin of the character. Improv, under the best of circumstances, depends on the acting chops of the performers and their ability to perform outside their comfort zones ("play the fear" is the improv rule).

Also, not all cast members are equally capable singers as they need to be in an all-singing musical revue. On that score, too, several songs need to end with greater finality or a bigger finish—what folks in the music biz call a "button." That's a fix director Beverlee Bailey and musical director Brad Kemp ought to be able to do before the run is over. Perhaps, too, they can find a few simple ways to add more visual pizazz to the rather plain staging.

The opening-night audience was heavy on couples—guys, women, mixed—and of an age that definitely was Andersonville and not Boystown. With a very modestly priced ticket (and you can BYOB from Ranalli's), Same Sex, Different Gays is a good fit for dinner and a show in A'ville.

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