As a woman of a certain age (and tastes), it’s probably completely unsurprising that my idea of a brilliant way to start my pre-birthday celebrations was to go to the Above the Stag’s newish home, have several glasses of pink wine and them hope to be deliciously, salaciously, and possibly filthily entertained by a musical … featuring gay men … potentially wearing very little. Yes, people, there is a target audience for Bath House the Musical, and I am it. While I may not share the gender of 95% of the target audience, still, we’re a group of people that know what we want and we’re not shy about going out to get it. SHAKE IT BABY!
In addition, as a theater critic, I was interested in seeing a musical that was, to me, completely new. On the other side, from a sociological perspective, I was actually really curious about what might actually happen in a bathhouse! I’d been to some steam rooms, but I don’t think the frequently gender-segregated Bethnal Green Spa is really about anything other than health and socialization: bathhouses, by contrast, have a serious reputation for being the kind of place where hanky panky happens. And, as a woman, they aren’t exactly the kind of places I can just sneak into and have a poke around. So I went in to Bathhouse with high hopes that I’d be both entertained and educated.
In some ways, the plot was perfect for a newbie like me: sweet young Billy (Ryan Lynch) is going to the bathhouse for the first time, and he doesn’t have the faintest idea what to expect either! So we get a song (“Bathhouse ABCs”) explaining some of the basics of bath house etiquette, all of which was completely new to me (even though I feel confident the bathhouse compere does not go around in a feather boa). We also got an eyefull of the variety of men who were our bathhouse patrons – but instead of casting the show with uniformly young, ripped gents, we had a nice variety: the very ripped and muscular Beckham-like Matthew Harper; extremely boyish Joe Leather (who, despite being young, is the one who is looking for – as the song title says – “Bear”); heavy-set, hairy Tim McArthur; flamboyant Alistair Frederick; and middle-aged, South Asian Royce Ullah, who made the production feel like a real London bathhouse rather than one that was, say, in Miami or Los Angeles. The fellow spend most of the evening wearing just towels, accessorized with wrist-or ankle-bands holding their locker keys … and, while you were perhaps dreaming of (or fearing) full frontal nudity, our brave performers quite modestly only provide the view from behind – although, when the lot of them are in a big clump on the stage with Frederick at the middle, well, not being able to see everything that was implied didn’t make it any less hot. AHEM!
In addition to the cheerful stuff, we hit some other elements during the show, such as the difficulty of trying to navigate your way through internet contact and the fun of being not partnered up for the holidays … although as captured in song, with “Clicking for Dick” and “Christmas at the Baths,” you could see that the authors weren’t wanting to wallow in misery. In fact, the overall effect of the whole show was of cheer and not taking it all too seriously – it’s meant to be a pick-me-up (see what I did there!), and it succeeds at this well. I laughed and leered and giggled and just let myself enjoy the comic air (and handsome performers). As a summer show, you couldn’t ask for a better bit of fun than Bathhouse – and it’s a good thing for the performers because BOY this would be a chilly one to do in December!
(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Friday, June 20th, 2014. It continues through July 20th. Pictures to follow!)