Of all the questions raised by “Sodom: The Musical,” none is more troubling than this one: Why cast one of the Village People as God and then not have him sing a note? It’s not like Randy Jones (aka the Cowboy) is known for his acting. Parading him through a musical in a speaking role shows a remarkable misunderstanding of what makes irony effective, and it proves that aping the form of kitschy satire is painfully different from mastering the content.
It may be unfair to label “Sodom” as satire, since that’s just one of the tones half-heartedly employed by lyricist-book writer Kevin Laub and director Ben Rimalower. Sometimes the show is a joyless jeremiad against vice, and sometimes it’s a shallow political statement about — what else? — the links between that immoral time and this one. Almost never is it coherent or entertaining.
Problems arise when God sends Abraham (Brian Munn) to find one virtuous man in Sodom. You know you’re in for a long night when that set-up gets interrupted so the Big Guy, dressed like a middle-aged rapper in baggy white sweatsuit and gaudy gold, can goose his speech-impaired secretary (Blythe Gruda, in one of two roles).
It doesn’t help that the exposition itself is dubious — would Abraham really need to show the Almighty where Sodom lies on a map? — or that Jones’ service in the Village People didn’t provide him with comic timing or a relaxed stage presence.
But those are cosmetic concerns compared to the music. The songs are essentially doled out one per Sodomite, with 10 ditties detailing the Commandments the townsfolk are breaking. This conceit holds perverse possibility, but Laub is too unsophisticated to seize it. Subverting “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain” with a country song whose chorus is a string of obscenities just isn’t shocking. It’s sophomoric.
Adam David Cohen provides an equally crass score. Most of the songs sound like the same ugly dirge being pounded on a cheap piano. The persistent atonality is justifiable for tunes about murderers and whores, but clunky chords are at dramaturgical odds with the numbers sung by Lot (Jonathan C. Kaplan). He’s the sought-after virtuous man, just trying to love his family, yet he sounds like everyone else.
Kaplan, once a child-star Tony nominee for “Falsettos,” does his best, but he can’t overcome inane lyrics or a character whose motivations seem to change on a whim.
At least he can hold a tune, which beats many in the shaky ensemble. Only two — Gruda and Ryan Kelly — truly impress. Gruda’s turn as a Sodomite provides the one moment when the show actually works. Debasing “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” she sings beautifully as a wholesome ingenue with a lust for daddy. For once, the lyrics are incisive and the music’s soft melody enhances the creepiness. This song, aptly titled “Daddy’s Li’l Girl,” makes a disturbing statement rather than grabbing for the nearest prurient cliche.
But those four minutes are all too brief, then it’s back to lame jokes and a judgmental conclusion that suggests Laub and Cohen are massive prudes. That, at least, would explain how they make sex so unsexy and sin so mind-numbingly dull.