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Say Seaboy, You Sissy Boy?

Kenny Mellman's earnest chamber musical about the murder of gay Navy officer Allen Schindler is tuneful, funny, and moving.

By New York City
Kenny Mellman
Kenny Mellman
Earnestness is not necessarily a word you'd think to associate with one of the co-creators of the gleefully sardonic Kiki and Herb. Yet, Kenny Mellman's new chamber musical, Say Seaboy, You Sissy Boy?, making its debut at Dixon Place, is nothing if not earnest. Fortunately, it's also tuneful, funny, and moving.

The writer/composer/performer remains behind the piano for the duration of the 45-minute show, mixing personal anecdotes about growing up gay in not-so-friendly surroundings with the history of Allen Schindler, the gay Navy officer who was beaten to death by fellow sailors in a public bathroom in Sasebo, Japan in 1992. He also engages in a few digressions, including a riff about Senator Larry Craig's scandalous dealings in a public men's room and a friend's sexual liaison with a sailor during Fleet Week.

Mellman's original musical compositions are ballad heavy, with pop and jazz inflections. The first few songs are more upbeat, using the author's own autobiography as well as a bit of lighthearted humor to draw the audience in. As the show progresses, several of the songs are written from the point of view of either Schindler or his shipmates, telling a tale of loneliness and homophobia.

One of the most effective sequences is a verbatim reading from the transcript of one of Schindler's killers that gives grisly details of the crime. The final song, which imagines a future for the murdered sailor, is surprisingly touching, and brought tears to my eyes.

Mellman seemed a bit nervous at the performance I attended and would occasionally sing an off-pitch note. However, it was equally apparent that the subject matter means a lot to him, and the rough edges are also indicative of a passion and personal connection to the material.

While open to review, it's obvious that Say Seaboy is still a work-in-progress. In its next incarnation -- hopefully with a better title -- Mellman might consider developing the spoken segments of the piece so that it seems less like patter in a cabaret act and more like a coherent narrative. The autobiographical tales are some of the show's best material, and he'd do well to add more of these, and to make it clearer why he was drawn to Schindler's story. As it stands, the chamber musical demonstrates a vast potential which has only partially been tapped.


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