Review: ‘When Pigs Fly’

Gay revues generally fall into two categories: the exclusionary and the relatively more inviting. The late Howard Crabtree's "When Pigs Fly" surely falls into the latter camp, with its cheery disposition, demure wit and utter lack of in-your-face sexuality.

Gay revues generally fall into two categories: the exclusionary and the relatively more inviting. The late Howard Crabtree’s “When Pigs Fly” surely falls into the latter camp, with its cheery disposition, demure wit and utter lack of in-your-face sexuality. These and other qualities make the show refreshingly welcome. But that’s not to say this effort, largely in fact the work of helmer Mark Waldrop, is particularly gratifying. It is, in fact, slight, silly and structurally unsound. For those not disturbed by such deficiencies, however, this musical revue should prove a diverting romp.

The plot, if it can be so termed, loosely concerns the attempts of Howard (Christopher Carothers) to mount a show in a dilapidated theater (the one that audience members are sitting in). Howard, a character clearly based on Crabtree, is one of those can-do theater types, and his infectious spirit is what moves the show’s action along.

But action isn’t really what this show’s about; the humor lies at the heart of things here. And the yucks can be found primarily in Waldrop’s snappy lyrics and Crabtree’s outre costumes. The songs, with music by Dick Gallagher, aren’t exactly the kind that send one out of the theater humming, but they conjure on-the-spot smiles, even if there is little to connect the various ditties, save their gay themes.

The showy Jim J. Bullock tickles with two torch songs suggesting a secret hankering for Strom Thurmond and Rush Limbaugh, but isn’t it perhaps time to nix the one about Newt Gingrich? David Pevsner’s sly delivery of “Not All Man” finds him revealing a secret (though not an obvious one) that makes him the bane of the boys’ locker room. Pevsner also gets the show’s other sneaky song, “Sam and Me,” in which a Brooks Brothers type confesses to an unusual domestic arrangement, circa 1965.

Hefty Blake Hammond livens up nearly every number he’s in, and his solo turn, “Bigger Is Better,” is a show stopper, with the actor, in revealing drag, advocating the virtues of an ample figure. And “Hawaiian Wedding Day” may be the show’s sweetest number, as Howard serenades auds with a blissful picture of an idealized gay marriage ceremony.

The revue’s best material comes midway through the first act. “Coming Attractions With Carol Ann” finds the pouty Loren Freeman as a small-time Midwestern impresario presenting a preview of her theater’s upcoming offerings. Freeman’s impersonation of an easily mocked type is uncanny and compelling, and some of the faux shows are funny, too. What do you call a collection of WWII songs by Frank Loesser? Why, “Brutally Frank,” of course.) How about a cache of undiscovered Richard Rodgers tunes? Yup, “You Don’t Know Dick.” The scene from a musical based on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is even funnier now that such a show really exists, and the bit from “Annie III” is suitably irreverent.

It’s Crabtree’s costumes, however, not the acting or the material, that attracts the most attention. Bold, bright, elaborate getups, they captivate one’s attention with their ingenious designs and built-in sight gags.

What kind of show, though, claims costumes as its strongest, uhm, suit? A relatively unambitious one, to be sure. “When Pigs Fly” is the theatrical equivalent of reduced-fat breakfast sausage. It will inevitably satisfy some, but hungrier souls will wonder: Where’s the meat?

When Pigs Fly

Coronet Theater; 284 seats; $47.50 top


An Ian Praiser and Michael Alden presentation of a musical revue in two acts. Conceived by Howard Crabtree and Mark Waldrop. Sketches and lyrics by Waldrop. Music by Dick Gallagher. Directed by Waldrop.


With: Jim J. Bullock, Christopher Carothers, Loren Freeman, Blake Hammond, David Pevsner.
Choreographed by Keith Cromwell. Sets, Bradley Kaye; costumes, Crabtree; lighting, Paulie Jenkins; sound, Timothy I. Metzger; stage manager, Meredith J. Greenburg. Opened, reviewed June 26, 1999. Running time: 2 HOURS.
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