Review: ‘Slut’

Slut

A frothy musical about horny straight dudes chasing tail? Is that marriage of form and content even legal? But like the bastard child of Ashton Kutcher and Marc Shaiman, or a mutant hybrid of the "American Pie" movies and Stephen Sondheim's "Company," "Slut" skips defiantly along on a cloud of testosterone and sophomoric humor.

A frothy musical about horny straight dudes chasing tail? Is that marriage of form and content even legal? But like the bastard child of Ashton Kutcher and Marc Shaiman, or a mutant hybrid of the “American Pie” movies and Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” “Slut” skips defiantly along on a cloud of testosterone and sophomoric humor. Frat boys and their girls-gone-wild might get a kick out of this rambunctious, appealingly cast account of hook-ups and heartaches among the twentysomething set. Most everyone else will file it away among one-night stands best forgotten.

For many young hipster directors, film culture dates back no further than “Pulp Fiction.” In the same way, the New York Musical Theater Festival and New York Fringe Festival (which spawned this show from its 2004 edition) seem often to foster a new breed of throwaway musical whose creators show scant interest in anything pre-“Little Shop of Horrors.” But even a pure pop musical needs heart, or at least charm. Not to mention three-dimensional characters. “Slut” tries to make do with cheeky attitude.

Dedicated skirt-chaser Adam (Andy Karl) outlines his credo in “I’m Probably Not Gonna Call,” which chronicles “drunken Friday nights turning into awkward Saturday mornings.” Adam is upfront about his disinterest in a follow-up date, even getting his conquest du soir to take out the trash in the morning.

His female counterpart is rocker chick Delia (Jenn Colella). “The point of dudes is not to find true love,” she instructs. “The point is to get what you need and move on.”

When his aspiring doctor friend Dan (Jim Stanek) sees his chances of a residency evaporate, Adam proposes seeking solace in a “Slutterday Night” girlhunt. But Dan clearly skipped the lesson on attachment-free sex, falling hard for Delia after one night together.

As long as the show is bouncing around the bars and bedrooms of New York’s East Village, it’s perky and amusing enough in its brash, shallow way. But when it attempts to navigate wider territory, things go off course.

The most lame-brained invention in Ben H. Winters’ book is Adam’s childhood dream to sail around the globe, seducing girls in every port while Dan cures the world’s afflicted children. In a sub-Farrelly brothers touch repeated about 87 times, the “Bravest Little Boat” is named H.M.S. Donkey Balls. Tee hee. As if that’s not leaden enough, the misjudged number then assembles an ethnically diverse bunch of kids wielding a giant syringe. Tasteful.

Dan opts out of the seafaring adventure to pursue a relationship with Delia, who seems semi-committed until her rising music career gets in the way. Dejected Dan then takes a leaf out of Adam’s serial-slut book, but the latter believes this represents too great an upset to the symmetry of the cosmos, a disruption manifested in — you guessed it — erectile dysfunction.

The predictable path to Adam’s discovery of his altruistic side is laced with some fun songs by Winters and composer Stephen Sislen, given surprisingly muscular treatment by the four-piece band.

In general, the lyrics are wittier than the often inane dialogue. As good-time bartender Lilly, Harriet D. Foy socks across the vampy “Lower the Bar,” extolling the virtues of diminished expectations; Foy and Kevin Pariseau earn laughs as a middle-age couple explaining how extramarital action keeps their union solid in “True Love”; Colella and Stanek’s “A Girl That You Meet in a Bar” is a sweet duet; and Amanda Watkins is a delight in one of the show’s best numbers, “Janey’s Song,” in which Delia’s pal outlines why “you can’t date a guy from Long Island.”

While the sidekick characters are minimally fleshed out and even the leading trio of Adam, Delia and Dan could use more depth, the cast is well stocked with strong voices and winning personalities. Colella and Karl, in particular, make sexy, dynamic leads. Karl’s former “Altar Boyz” co-star David Josefsberg supplies an enjoyably arch comic turn as a slick music producer, but his herpes confessional, “J-Dogg’s Lament,” is one of many instances in which the vanilla show feels awkward as it angles for a dirtier edge.

Choreographer Warren Carlyle’s work is undernourished, but director Gordon Greenberg steers the action at a satisfying pace through act one, faltering only in the more feebly structured thin second act.

The production’s prime asset is the versatile set by rising star Beowulf Boritt (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”). Echoed in the bold palette of Jane Cox’s lighting, the inventive designer’s centerpiece unit is a cartoonish, primary-color take on a dark little dive, strung with chili-pepper lights and bedecked with artfully arranged liquor bottles and beer logos. It illustrates a stylish pop-art sensibility far more sophisticated than that of the musical’s creators.

Slut

American Theater of Actors; 140 seats; $55 top

Production

A Dena Hammerstein and Pam Pariseau presentation for James Hammerstein Prods. of a musical in two acts with music and additional lyrics by Stephen Sislen, book and lyrics by Ben H. Winters. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. Musical director and orchestrations, Eric Svejcar. Choreography, Warren Carlyle.

Creative

Sets, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, Anne Kennedy; lighting, Jane Cox; sound, Peter Hylenski; production stage manager, Sara Jaramillo. Opened Oct. 1, 2005. Reviewed Sept. 28. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Adam - Andy Karl Yesterday's News, Veronica - Mary Faber Doug, Sea Captain, Janey's Father - Kevin Pariseau Lilly, Janey's Mother - Harriett D. Foy Janey - Amanda Watkins J-Dogg, Buddy Pendleton - David Josefsberg Dan - Jim Stanek Delia - Jenn Colella
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