Book: Jay Paul Deratany; Music: Joe Stevens & Keaton Wooden; Lyrics: Stevens, Wooden & Deratany. At: Permoveo Productions and Pride Films and Plays at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-327-5252 or AlbertCashierTheMusical.com; $40. Runs through: Oct. 15
There's no denying the timeliness of the world-premiere musical The CiviliTy of Albert Cashierespecially in light of the Trump administration's plans to ban transgender soldiers from serving in the U.S. military.
This musical aims to be a rallying piece of theater for LGTBQ activists and supporters since it takes its real-life inspiration from Albert D.J. Cashier, a likely historical transgender pioneer. Born in Ireland as Jennie Hodgers, Cashier honorably served during the Civil War as a male Union soldier and nearly led the rest of his life in the guise of a man.
Yet what's on display at Stage 773 is a boatload of good intentions undermined by leaky theatrical storytelling. The musical frustratingly only skims the emotional complexity of Cashier's desire to enlist in a war and his need to self-identify as male.
There was potential in playwright Jay Paul Deratany time-shifting show structure that has Broadway veteran Katherine Condit portraying "Old Albert" and trans performer Danni Shay of America's Got Talent fame as "Young Albert." Facing the onset of dementia and the trauma of being exposed by a largely hostile hospital staff led by a malevolent Nurse ( Delia Kropp ), Old Albert flashes back to his time when he initially presented as male as a 19-year-old enlistee in Company G of the 95th Illinois Infantry.
Deratany could have created more dramatic conflict by devoting more time to Young Albert proving himself as both a man and soldier. Right now the close friendships the diminutive Cashier forms with enlistees like the talkative Jeffrey ( Billy Rude ) and medic Walter ( Cameron Armstrong, representing, in part, the plight of African-Americans serving for the Union side ) come off as too easy.
Often the songswritten and compiled by Joe Stevens, director Keaton Wooden and Deratanycome off as ponderous and halting to the narrative flow. For instance, Walter's song "Following the Sound" repeats information from the preceding scene before shifting to general platitudes.
It's also baffling when the show's creators often steer the focus away from Cashier in favor of minor characters. Why on earth does Jonathan Stombres, as hospital orderly John, get a razzmatazz song about his desire to travel to Chicago?
Director Wooden's staging makes fine use of G. "Max" Maxin IV's projection designs that feature footage of Civil War re-enactments. Yet the brotherly bursts of choreography by Derek Van Barham can feel tacked on. The performances are largely all well-sung, although the full life-or-death or discovery dramatic stakes in key scenes aren't fully plumbed.
The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier clearly could do with another workshop production to fine-tune both the story and songs. But even in its current imperfect state, the musical honorably highlights the historical struggles of a transgender pioneer to draw timely and eye-opening parallels to LGBTQ soldiers and aging populations of today.