Walter Mencken 8 a.m., July 30
Harmony, Kansas, at Diversionary Theatre
The premise of the world premiere musical sounds formulaic: gay men gather on Monday nights to sing choral music and find respite from their rural neighbors. And the story's slow to take shape, since Anna K. Jacobs (music) and Bill Nelson (book and lyrics) provide a song, early on, for almost every occasion.
But the musical, blessed by a knockout production at Diversionary, evolves into a funny, warm-spirited, ultimately touching evening.
Outside his farmhouse, Heath's a hard-working Kansan who dreams of adding 500 more adjoining acres to his spread. Inside he lives with Julian, his citified partner, to Heath's macho dismay, puts thought into the little things. They live two lives. Heath wants it kept that way.
Julian has other ideas. He invites Heath to join the "poker night" singers in Shiloh (pop. around 300). It's part of Julian's long-term dream of dropping the hetero mask and living "out loud."
But Heath fears repercussion to his livelihood. "Around here," he says, "guys singing together is gay." He joins reluctantly and bonds with the group - until they decide to sing in public.
Once again, director James Vasquez displays his gift for bringing out the best in a musical and its performers. His pacing, inventively staged scenes, and the obvious rapport of his cast make it hard to imagine this show being better served.
Vasquez put just the right people in the right roles. Tom Zohar plays eternal optimist Julian as if to the character born. Same with Jacob Caltrider's stubborn, almost torn-apart Heath, John Whitley's officious Wiley, Bill Nolte's low-key (until pressed) Fuzz, Anthony Methvin's appropriately distant Kent, young Dylan Hoffinger's dervish DJ (especially his rendition of "Homo Kid from Kansas Blues"), and Tony Houck's put-upon Darrell.
Act one could use trimming. I hope that doesn't include Houck's "I Bring The Snacks." Darrell doesn't just feed the group, he unveils his creations - in this case peanut butter bars with a soupcon of honey - as if the Essence of Emeril. When unsuspecting Julian brings chocolate cupcakes, well, Darrell sets the record straight - and stops the show.
The ensemble work is outstanding. The choral voices, under Adam Wachter's musical direction, are also tops.
Sean Fanning's rustic set, suggestion of a barn and windmill, opens out to a sky that Michelle Caron lights with blazing, Kansas in August heat. And whoever found the slim, antique-to-the-point-of-ancient piano - prop designer David Medina - merits a special cudo.