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A 'Medea' With a Lot of Camp

Theater Beat

July 02, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES

One can only hope for plenty of camp from anything called "Medea: The Musical," and this gay-themed romp at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre certainly delivers, though not without limitations. Director-writer John Fisher has crafted an energetic song-and-dance treatment of the jilted Corinthian Queen who turns to infanticide as payback for her husband's disloyalty.

A long-running cult favorite in San Francisco, the show sports an assortment of satirical lyrics set to familiar songs ("I Will Survive," "New York, New York" and the ever-popular "Y.M.C.A."). While there's no original music to speak of, live accompaniment and some deft choreography by Jane Paik (who appears as a sensuous Aphrodite in one number) help qualify the piece as a musical.

Despite often tastelessly amusing lyrics--"It's so sad / The effect of cut-up children on a dad"--the satire isn't as sharp as some similar vehicles that have played the Hudson--"Christmas With the Crawfords" or "A Gay Christmas Carol," for example.

But "Medea" is distinguished by its more substantial subplot involving an unlikely romance between the actors playing the musical leads. Nick (Nicholas Gilhool), a gay actor famed for his "Bette Davis Hamlet," is at first horrified by his newfound attraction to his co-star, Elsa (Elsa Wolthausen), but their passion conquers their prejudices. Their poignancy and commitment make an effective counterweight to the flamboyant excess around them.

The conceit runs into trouble, though, when the new couple balk at their roles in the musical--instead of the all-gay interpretation demanded by their director (Fisher), they want to give their characters real passion and dignity. Unfortunately, their argument pits them against the very campy stereotypes that "Medea: The Musical" milks for so many of its laughs--in trying to have it both ways, the show surrenders a lot of coherence. Not that it's a make-or-break issue in this goofy saga.

*

* "Medea: The Musical," Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m. Dark this Sunday. Ends Aug. 1. $20-22. (323) 856-4200. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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