Susanne K. Langer had not seen “Dr. Sex” when she wrote that form and content are one in the arts. Then again, the noted aesthetician might have been writing about good art. In Larry Bortniker and Sally Derring’s new musical, the story of sex researcher Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey flies in one direction, while the show’s book and songs remain caught between bed sheets of a rather low thread count. And, never a good sign, no one is named as director of this enterprise. Instead, the credit reads, “Entire production supervised by Greg Hirsch.”
The famous sex researcher’s controversial story recently made an effective biopic, “Kinsey,” starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney as the doctor and his wife who shared a male lover.
In the hands of Derring and co-book writer Bortniker, who wrote the songs, this tale of repression and licentiousness quickly devolves into “I Love You, You’re Kinky, So Let’s Get Down With My Intern,” or “I Love My Wife, Who’s Not Opposed to Threeways.” For anyone who wonders whatever happened to sex romps in the theater, here’s the answer.
The score for “Dr. Sex” can best be described as perky. Since Kinsey’s story begins in 1919 with his research into the love life of gall wasps, Bortniker starts with operetta, then segues into jazz and swing as the story progresses into the 1930s and ’40s. Along the way there’s a surfeit of soft-shoe set to the steps of Mark Esposito’s generic choreography.
The essential construct is a vaudeville revue, complete with flashing red light bulbs, a busy curtain that helps delineate the many skits and half-naked boys and girls who carry signs to let us know stage time moves much more quickly than real time in the Peter Norton Space.
To keep things lively, Rob Bissinger’s set is painted red and blue, and it features a big bed that makes occasional appearances at center stage.
To the actors’ credit, they never for a moment look embarrassed. At one point, Kinsey (Brian Noonan) takes his male assistants on a camping trip so they can all get naked as fast as possible. The joke is a sight gag that obscures genitalia with the help of carefully choreographed moving objects a la “Austin Powers.”
Aside from a painful excursion through the land of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald, Noonan and Jennifer Simard actually make a very game Dr. and Mrs. Kinsey. With his wired hair and popping blue-button eyes, he seems genuinely jazzed by life; she makes a truly red-hot mama in one torch song, “The Doctor’s Wife.”
Although Bortniker could do without a few rhymes like “this idea” and “diarrhea,” his word play is often clever and his lyrics never seemed shoehorned into his pastiche score.
But the old problem remains: Triple threats in the musical theater only do harm to themselves. After “Dr. Sex” and Kirsten Childs’ “Miracle Brothers” at the Vineyard, it might be time to call a moratorium on anyone attempting to be the next Frank Loesser.