Fringe 2015 review: "Lay, Ms."


Walking a fine line between campy parody, serious homage, overly ambitious theatricality and spectacular disaster is Lay Ms., a reworking of the classic musical Les Miserables. This odd smorgasbord of rewritten lyrics and transformed plots almost defies explanation, becoming not so much a performance as a spectacle designed to both arouse and annoy the senses. Let’s just say this isn’t your great-great-great-great grandfather’s Paris Uprising.

The musical is moved from 19th-century Paris to New York and San Francisco in the 1950s and '60s, and instead of political and class struggles, we get gay rights. Jean Valjean is now Johnny Val Johnson, and his crime is wearing women’s clothing. Javert is JaBear, a closet homosexual torn between hunting down his nemesis and grabbing his cute little ass. Fantine is Francine and Cosette is Charlette, and they are now sisters. And so on and so forth, with the most notable revisions being the gender-switching of the Thénardiers and the new sexual preferences of Charlette and the Eponine character, renamed Epoonany. (They now fall in love with each other.)

The songs, too, have changed, though the music stays the same. “Look Down” becomes the sexually charged “Face Down,” “Master of the House” turns into the BDSM “Master’s House,” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” devolves into “Empty Stalls in Empty Bathrooms” – and those are the good ones! Despite the silliness – which, admittedly, would be greatly helped by a large, boisterous audience in the vast Silver venue – the show tries too hard for drama and seems dead-set on communicating a heavy-handed message about gay rights, going so far as to invoke the spirit of the Stonewall Riots.

Writer Brian Rewis has his heart in the right place, but his pen isn’t up to the task. Although I must admit I remained eager to see where Rewis and musical director Paul Tugwell would take the beloved story, the only real suspense during much of the press preview was whether the malfunctioning set pieces would topple or whether the ill-fitting costumes would fall off the rather Rubenesque actresses.

Most of the leads are competent but not memorable. Jake Mullen as Johnny and Krystal Gillette as both Francine and Charlette have stage presence but were hampered in the preview production by late (recorded) music cues, poor pacing and the script’s lurching from comedy to drama. Rob DelMedico as the cross-dressing Thénardier is amusing, but Jamaal Solomon, who plays JaBear while pulling double duty as technical director, is just there. Only director Tara Rewis, as Epoonany, is noteworthy. She pours not just her heart but her other ample assets into the show’s most jaw-dropping moment: a topless performance of a reworked “On My Own” while simulating almost every sexual position and not missing a note.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a Paris mausoleum, a bewildered Victor Hugo is vomiting in his tomb, while sporting an erection.

Lay, Ms.
Charade Theatre – Orlando, Fla.
Venue: Silver
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: 18 and up
Price: $9 

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