Throughout history, musicals have been created in a diverse number of settings. It seems that just about anyplace you can imagine, songwriters have found a way to stick characters in there and then get them to sing their hearts out, no matter how bizarre the location.
Remember the nun in the Austrian Alps -- "The Sound Of Music"? That's a far cry from the Anglo and Puerto Rican youth gangs fighting it out on the mean streets of New York City -- "West Side Story." And that's an equally great distance from the barber shop where a sadistic barber slashes his customers throats -- "Sweeney Todd" -- or the castle in the middle of nowhere inhabited by aliens from Transsexual, Transylvania -- "The Rocky Horror Show." As long as the songwriters have wide imaginations, they can get their characters to belt 'em out in even the weirdest settings.
So perhaps it was inevitable that eventually a songwriting team would put their characters in a bathhouse.
"Bathhouse: The Musical" puts its focus on four gay men who arrive to hit the steam rooms, check out who's available for a date, and, of course, belt out plenty of songs, cabaret-style.
The 60-minute-long "Bathhouse: The Musical" had its debut in May at the Orlando Fringe Festival before finding a home at the Footlight Theater in Orlando this month. The result is a show that, while skimpy on plot, provides a very generous amount of hilariously campy humor and catchy, foot-tapping tunes to be well worth taking in.
In one sense, a musical in a gay bathhouse is probably long overdue, considering that bathhouses in big cities like New York have been popular spots for cabaret-style performers for decades. There was even a popular '70s stage show -- and in 1976 movie version -- called "The Ritz," set in a gay bathhouse.
The movie featured Rita Moreno playing Googie Gomez, the talentless singer who performs for the guys. In fact, it was another popular gay icon, Bette Midler, who in 1970 got her start singing at the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in New York. Her piano accompanist there, Barry Manilow, went on to produce her first major album, "The Divine Miss M," in 1973.
"Bathhouse: The Musical" is very much in that tradition. It has few aspirations beyond being an enjoyably silly diversion, and on those terms, it is a lot of fun. There's rich camp humor to spare because the performers demonstrate a great deal of talent in singing, dancing and being goofy. Being goofy on stage sounds easy, but doing it well is probably a lot harder than it sounds.
"Bathhouse" was written by Esther Daack and Tim Evanicki, and for the Footlight Theater show, some additional material has been provided by Ryan Beck and Jason Wetzel. A special note of thanks also needs to go to the original choreography by Carl Anderson, which is pretty snappy. But a show like this only works with good performers, and the producers chose wisely.
The characters have no names -- they're more like archetypes. Karl Anderson is the hunk who obviously spends a lot of spare time in the gym lifting weights, while the show's co-writer, Evanicki, also plays the chub, the somewhat weight-challenged guy who doesn't have the Abercrombie model look to bring to the table. It's Evanicki job to catch the eye of the beauty boys, which leaves him singing a few soulful ballads about going home empty.
Kane Prestenback and Jerry Jobe Jr. round out the cast, and all four of them are terrific singers and dancers. The fact that they also have a great sense of comedic timing makes "Bathhouse" a treat. Jobe and Evanicki, in particular, steal so many laughs that the show is as much a really good comedy as it is a musical.
The show was put together by Air-O-Dynamic Design and Production, which debuted at the Orlando Fringe Festival in May 2005 with "Incubus," a very different play, a drama about two con artists posing as a medium and his assistant, who hope to scam a wealthy man by conjuring up the mythical demon Incubus.
The fact that this Orlando-based production company could produce two such diverse pieces -- creepy drama and campy musical -- suggests they have wide imaginations and are likely to offer local audiences some clever entertainment in future years.