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The Big Gay Musical

A very likable though not even remotely original gay crowdpleaser.

With: Daniel Robinson, Joey Dudding, Jeff Metzler, Liz McCartney, John Hillner, Steve Hayes, Brent Corrigan, Michael Musto.

“The Big Gay Musical” takes an extremely tiny tuner, “Adam and Steve,” stages it in an Off Off Broadway theater and intercuts the songs with snatches of stock narrative, making for a very likable though not even remotely original gay crowdpleaser. Pic follows the show-within-a-show’s cast through everything from coming out to unrequited love to HIV (the usual, in other words), lingering most on the challenges of reconciling homosexuality with a Christian upbringing. Through clever packaging, this transparent ploy to produce a long-shelved musical yields a satisfying divertissement for DVD auds with savvy follow-up opportunities baked into its format.

Co-directed by Fred M. Caruso (who focuses on the stage bits) and Casper Andreas (a gay indie-movie vet who clearly knows this niche), the pic distinguishes itself from more serious-minded drama right from the outset with an amusing cameo from Michael Musto, squirming in the audience of yet another dreary straight play. Unable to take it anymore, the gossip-column diva claws his way to the exit, demanding relief in the form of a “big gay musical.”

Caruso and Andreas oblige him by cutting to the opening number of “Adam and Steve: Just the Way God Made ‘Em,” a revisionist look at the Bible (or the “Breeders’ Informational Book of Living Examples,” as the show dubs it) that reveals a second, improved couple created by God (played with lispy, limp-wristed gusto by Steve Hayes) for the Garden of Eden, only to be gay-bashed by their jealous, apple-eating straight neighbors.

Seldom has blasphemy been so entertaining, and if only Caruso were capable of sustaining such wit (and energy, as agile lensing and editing keep things lively), the movie could have stuck to documenting his stage show. But subsequent numbers stall, with lame caricatures of Tammy Faye Bakker and long stretches at an ex-gay conversion camp offset by an eye-candy male cast parading about in hot pants and angel wings. (Though an “Adam and Steve”-only DVD is said to be forthcoming, auds should be grateful the helmers decided to broaden the pic’s scope.)

God’s first gay couple are played by Paul (Daniel Robinson) and Eddie (Joey Dudding), actors with no shortage of offstage drama in their own lives. Paul co-hosts “Strictly Sondheim,” an open-mic night for drunken theater queens, while fresh-from-the-heartland Eddie frets that his parents will discover he’s gay. Paul’s in a relationship and Eddie is waiting for the right guy, but before the film is over, both will have hooked up several times (including a surprisingly chaste encounter with an eager-to-please hustler played by porn star Brent Corrigan) and will have arrived at a slightly more enlightened state than where they began.

These vignettes alone wouldn’t sustain a movie, but intercut with preview performances of “Adam and Steve,” they manage to cover a surprising number of issues relevant to contempo gay life. Eddie also is having his own religion-induced identity crisis, and though such scenes are clearly oversimplified, they feel far more sincere than the wink-wink tone displayed in the musical numbers.

As for the music itself, it’s mostly just OK, with the singers often mocking the showtunes tradition. The two exceptions are “I Wanna Be a Slut,” a wonderfully irreverent original tune Paul performs at open-mic night, and “Adam and Steve’s” rafter-raising climactic number, “As I Am,” as sung by Liz McCartney.

To the pic’s credit, the directors insisted on casting openly gay Broadway actors in all the key roles, trading the usual daytime-soap-caliber cast of equivalently low-budget, L.A.-produced gay fare for multitalents with real singing and dancing chops. Tech credits are in line with such films, more than adequate for festival and DVD consumption.

The Big Gay Musical

Production: An Embrem Entertainment release of a Fred M. Caruso/Embrem Entertainment production. Produced by Casper Andreas, Fred M. Caruso. Executive producers, Thomas Ackley, Simon Jorna, Mich Lyon, Edward Miller, Mark Stiffler. Co-producers, Jay Arnold, Tom D'Angora, Michael Duling. Directed by Casper Andreas, Fred M. Caruso. Screenplay, Caruso.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Jon Fordham; editor, Alexander Hammer; music, Scott Starett; songs, Rick Crom, Caruso; musical director, Jack Aaronson; production designer, Jason Courson; art director, Jana Mattioli; costume designer, Bobby Pearce; sound, Christopher Low; sound designer, Greg Rippin; choreographer, Shea Sullivan; assistant director, Joshua Freeman; casting, Michael Cassara. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival (World Cinema Now), Jan. 10, 2010. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Daniel Robinson, Joey Dudding, Jeff Metzler, Liz McCartney, John Hillner, Steve Hayes, Brent Corrigan, Michael Musto.

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