With a title like Rent Boy – The Musical, no one could possibly visit the latest offering from Vauxhall’s Above The Stag Theatre expecting Chekov, which is just as well. There are plenty of organs stimulated by this show, but the brain isn’t one of them.
The theatre, Britain’s only full time LGBT producing house, runs a programming policy which sees worthwhile and thoughtful shows being alternated with shows which, to put it plainly, have lots of flesh on offer.
Following on from the well received factually based play with songs Fanny and Stella, Rent Boy – The Musical falls very squarely into that latter category, and if you go expecting anything other than a diverting evening of young, hard-bodied men hoofing their way through a collection of forgettable charm songs in various states of undress, I’m afraid you’ll be sadly disappointed.
However, if you go hoping to see a charming set of young men acting out a book which, if it’s never going to win a Pulitzer Prize, I guarantee you will find un-taxing and easy to follow, then this is the perfect evening for you.
The premise is simple. We are at the annual ‘Hookie’ Awards, celebrating all that is good and praiseworthy in transactional gay sex, and as the evening progresses, and as the awards are doled out for each category, we have a little bit of an introduction from our Master of Ceremonies (Frank Loman) who clearly wants to find out what makes these boys tick, and a bit of paper-thin back-story from the particular renter concerned, who usually has a song too.
All is going well until the MC asks if there’s anyone in the audience who has used the services of the rent boys on show. Step forward The Client (Samuel Clifford) who has not only availed himself of Devon Williams (Conleth Kane) but has unfortunately fallen in love with him, a love which cannot be reciprocated, except for $250 an hour.
Naturally Devon comes to realize that he’s in love with his Client, and all ends more or less happily ever after.
That really is all there is to the story.
As I said, the score is composed largely of charm songs, and some of them hit home with aplomb. The ‘Pete’s Tool Rental’ number mines a deep and bountiful seam of Kander and Ebb crossed with The Village People, and Carole Todd’s choreography in this song, as throughout, managed to be just butch enough to be titillating, though just ‘musical theatre’ enough to be watchable.
‘Gay for Pay’ goes some way towards explaining the conflict inherent with selling services to members of your own sex, as does ‘That’ll be a little bit more’ which explores the ‘add-on’s’ which might be available from your pay-date.
The Act One closer, ‘All my dreams in a row’ is a pleasant enough duet between Devon and his client, though without having had the story structure delineated sufficiently earlier on in the act, doesn’t hit home as well as it could have done. The act stops without having climaxed.
There are more set pieces in Act Two reaching an apogee in ‘Who Invented the Jock Strap’, a question never answered in the show though even a cursory Googling would suggest C. F. Bennett of Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith in 1874! It doesn’t take a genius to guess what the costume change for this song is…
Devon’s apotheosis comes in ‘I had to go there to get here’ towards the ends of the second act, and it’s really only Conleth Kane’s affability that gives it any emotional underpinning.
In terms of bang for your buck the show has good production values, a great young cast, and lots of energy, though I found it slightly odd not to have a song list in the programme (so will apologise to those concerned for any errors in my hastily scribbled notes).
Although this is a show which ultimately I enjoyed, I didn’t feel it was existing in anything other than a superficial world of leather and sequins. It could have said something, but doesn’t, which I think is a wasted opportunity.