If you go to Steve at Signature Center, by all means, get there early. There’s a captivating preshow concert of musical theatre songs, lustily delivered by the cast. And make sure you stay for the deliciously sly curtain call, a mini-show in itself.
Of course, in between – there’s the play. Author Mark Gerrard similarly works hard to please the audience, and for the most part, he succeeds. The show is laced with funny one-liners; it’s brightly paced (director Cynthia Nixon finds more in it than I would have thought possible) and expertly performed by six fine comic actors, among whom Matt McGrath and Mario Cantone especially shine.
There are serious moments, too. Steve is fundamentally about how the comfortable lives of middle-aged adults can be disrupted in an instant by issues ranging from infidelity to cancer. (You’d think the latter would put the former in perspective, but – here, at least – it doesn’t quite.)
So why, despite all the charm and bonhomie, did I find Steve ultimately dispiriting? For starters, it’s utterly insular – a world of sophisticated Manhattan privilege, barely registering anything outside its bought-it-at-Barneys orbit. Theatrically speaking, Steve might define the concept of First World Problems.
Nor does much of it feel fresh. Despite a few contemporary details – flirtations via sexting, instead of the more traditional covert phone calls and conversations – substantively, this is very familiar terrain in gay theatre. I suspect the single female character (Carrie) – whose plotline has a ripped-from-TV feel – is an attempt to persuade us that there’s something new here, since the schematic for gay comedy is largely male only (Love! Valour! Compassion! is an obvious comparison). But with or without Carrie (played by the endearing Ashlie Atkinson), one could scarcely miss the influence of Terrence McNally, Christopher Durang, and others.
And then there are the show tunes. Even when the cast isn’t singing them, they’re quoting them. Love of musical theatre hangs in the air with the ubiquitous sparkle of Christmas lights. Show tunes, it seems, are the way gay men process anything and everything.
As all who know me can attest, I bow to no one on this particular topic. Yet even I have my limits. A humble request (and this comes from a 59-year-old, married gay man who teaches musical theatre, and could hardly be closer to Steve’s demographic) – next time, can we take the road less traveled? And pretty please – can we have a five-year moratorium on channeling Elaine Stritch?
Steve, New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through January 3. For tickets, click here.