Disappearing Act

What is even more striking about this enjoyable show is the way in which the second act celebrates, even honors, the courageous and steadfast side of the gay lifestyle without breaking from the casual sophistication established in the first act. Instead of grim despair and self-pity, charm and candor continue to hold sway, along with an added element of determination as the numbers address the boredom of self-imposed isolation, the stress of caring for shut-ins and the pain of dealing with the families of those who have died.

With:
Cast: Michael McElroy, Jamie MacKenzie, Branch Woodman.

What is even more striking about this enjoyable show is the way in which the second act celebrates, even honors, the courageous and steadfast side of the gay lifestyle without breaking from the casual sophistication established in the first act. Instead of grim despair and self-pity, charm and candor continue to hold sway, along with an added element of determination as the numbers address the boredom of self-imposed isolation, the stress of caring for shut-ins and the pain of dealing with the families of those who have died.

The first act is not without its darker moments, as when a closeted careerist has to choose between his pride and a promotion, or when a black man laments the ongoing presence of racial prejudice in men who, more than most, should have a sense of universal brotherhood. But, rather than seeming out of place or jarring , these serious interludes blend smoothly with the otherwise lighthearted flow of wry good humor, perfect harmonies and clever dance steps.

And the second act, while cast in a harsher light than the first, has its humorous moments, as when an old “married” couple snipe at each other behind the facade of domestic bliss they show the world, or when the scene shifts to a meeting of the rhythmless Log Cabin Republicans.

Director, choreographer and vocal arranger Mark Frawley has successfully accomplished what many strive in vain to do with the musical revue form: He has arranged the numbers so that the show has a dramatic structure despite the absence of any overt plot. Gifted composer and lyricist Mike Oster has given him a tremendous assortment of first-rate songs to work with fresh and original but well grounded in the styles and traditions of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Sondheim.

Singing the songs and carrying out Frawley’s direction and choreography are the trio of Michael McElroy, Jamie MacKenzie and Branch Woodman. Whether working alone, in a twosome or ensemble, these three are simply wonderful.

The relatively small performance space has been enlarged by set designer Bill Clarke’s attractive complex of panels and Tim Hunter’s sharp lighting, with the latter even seeming to add to the number of characters onstage during the zombie number.

Costume designer Gregg Barnes has created enough clothing for a cast of 60, providing changes for the three-man cast for almost every number. This show has almost as many shoes as Imelda Marcos, but they, along with the dozens of shirts , jackets, robes, pairs of pants, hats, pith helmets, etc., are all quite handsome, whether in deco-ish black-and-white or leisurely pastels. Ron Roy deserves special credit, not only for his musical direction, but for his extraordinary keyboard performance during the show.

Disappearing Act

Production: A presentation by Jeff Bannon and Phyllis Miriam in association with Bosco Ltd., Shawn Churchman, Normand Kurtz and Steven M. Levy of a musical revue in two acts with words and music by Mike Oster. Direction, choreography and vocal arrangements by Mark Frawley.

Crew: Set, Bill Clarke; lighting, Tim Hunter; sound, Jim Van Bergen; costumes, Gregg Barnes; production stage manager, Brian Rardin; musical direction and arrangements, Ron Roy; press, Pete Sanders. Opened Sept. 4 , 1996, at 47th Street Theater. Reviewed Sept. 10; 199 seats; $ 35 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

With: Cast: Michael McElroy, Jamie MacKenzie, Branch Woodman.With a collection of delightful songs about the joys of shopping, the tribulations of gentrification, the challenges of the disco scene and the horrors of one-night stands with men who turn out to be zombies, "Disappearing Act" brilliantly fulfills its creators' description of the show as a "musical celebration of the urban gay lifestyle." And that's just the first act.

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