The first half of “Fairy Tales,” the long-running Chicago musical revue now making its Off Broadway debut, is a celebration of gay life and love in the 1990 s featuring lighthearted numbers about homophobic Bible-thumpers, the attraction of rough trade and the inspirational aspects of the Partridge Family. These are at best mildly amusing but nowhere near as clever as songwriter Eric Lane Barnes thinks. But even they are preferable to the mini-musical melodrama that makes up most of the second act.
Most of Barnes’ songs are filled with flowery prose, and their excessive wordiness does not help to make the tunes memorable. Two notable exceptions are “Muses,” a pretty and uncharacteristically simple combination of melody and lyric, and “You’re the Bottom,” which turns upside down Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.”
A third exception, “Grace,” comes back to haunt in the second act when Barnes switches from the musical revue format to mini-musical built around one family’s tribulations. The story starts out silly with “My Ambition,” in which the singer expresses his life’s desire to be the presidential spouse rather than the president. This is followed by the best-staged number of the evening, “The Letter Song,” in which a “Dear John” letter is dissected and good riddance given to its subliterate author.
This show shifts gears by launching into the family melodrama, a made-for-TV-style tear-jerker in which Junior comes out of the closet to his unreceptive family. In its push-all-the-right-buttons assault on the emotions, this sequence, which follows through to the young man’s death from AIDS, borders on the exploitative.
Never confused about where they are going is the show’s fine group of performers and musicians. Especially notable are Valerie Hill and Keith Anderson , and Rob Maitner for his comic turns. Director Mark Cannistraro keeps all the numbers moving, and costumer Jennifer Kenyon deserves special credit for her contributions, especially the elegant smoking jacket and gloves she provides for “The Letter Song.”