Theater Review: GRINDR THE OPERA (AN UNAUTHORIZED PARODY) (Pride Films and Plays)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 26, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Sooner or later you knew an Internet application would get its own show, especially when it plays Dan Cupid, hooking up randy seekers of one-night stands or permanent pleasure. First produced in the U.K. last year, Grindr The Opera (An Unauthorized Parody) is an alternately cheeky and bittersweet salute to some very social media.

Replacing or amplifying the usual hunting grounds for sex/love of bars and bathhouses, the smartphone or laptop is now where gay men locate each other through Grindr, initially as a good impression, finally as a fait accompli (as the lyric bluntly puts it, “We need the feed”). In 85 minutes, New York-based composer-lyricist-bookwriter Erik Ransom satirizes and salutes this seemingly indispensable tool, transforming it into a sung-through mock opera.

A charming Chicago premiere staged by John Cardone for Pride Films & Plays, this Pride Month presentation is, considering its subject, suitably explicit (as in terms like “cum dumpster”). It merrily chronicles the pandering ways of a drag queen/demi-deity named Grindr (counter-tenor Bruno Rivera). Awakened by the “siren song” of horny homosexuals, this born-again professional procuress from ancient Greece is accompanied by her back-up henchpersons Occulto (Andrew Flynn) and Dilectus (Brandon Krisko).

Ready to audition (in a screen profile) for the sheer love of lust, Grindr’s willing subjects represent different parts of the lavender “tribe.” Wary of being hurt but ever accommodating, Tom (tenor Ben Broughton) comes “NSA” (no strings attached), eager for change and ready to share. A doctor, Devon (Justin Cavazos) hopes there’s a picket fence and doting hubby in his future. When he links up with hopeful Tom on a busy Murphy bed, well, looking back, they’re right to sing “I Thought You Were the One.”

A married and conservative closet case, older and richer Don (played by director Cardone) fancies himself a leather daddy straight (so to speak) out of the Village People. No fan of fidelity, he’s looking for a rent boy more than a romantic partner. He thinks he’s found one in twink-y 18-year-old Jack (Evan Wilhelm) who, full of “anticipation,” will do a lot for $200.

To illustrate a final chorus that cites “what a tangled web we weave,” both couples find themselves interwoven in devious ways, embarrassing or enlightening, that must remain surprises. It’s enough that they regularly echo Dorothy Parker’s sardonic put-down, “What fresh new hell can this be?” The assorted brouhahas seem unavoidable, because all-manipulating and always-possessive Grindr just wants her acolytes to come back for more.  Seek, yes, but ye shall not find. Anyway, complete constancy would delete the app and end her reign of near-misses and also-rans.

In songs like “Going on a Man Hunt,” “Change Your Trend,” and “Trick of the Mind” that range from operatic verismo to Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs to present-day pop, Ransom has fun with human folly. The shenanigans of his four passion fruits recall Shakespeare’s midsummer-night mix-up. Adding to the fine frenzy is the rampaging choreography by co-director Shawn Quinlan and the confident musical direction by Tommy Ross.

By the end Cordone’s Boystown love-seekers make a congenial septet of likable devotees — and they give new meaning to hand-held devices.

photos by Heather Mall

Grindr The Opera
Pride Films and Plays
The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway
Thurs & Sun at 8; Fri & Sat at 10; dark June 30 & July 4
ends on July 28, 2019
for tickets, call 773.857.0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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