Kerry Butler and David Burtka
in The Opposite of Sex
(© Allison Leger)
Kerry Butler and David Burtka
in The Opposite of Sex
(© Allison Leger)
There's exactly one false moment -- more of a micro-moment, really -- in the brilliant new musical version of Don Roos' 1998 movie, The Opposite of Sex, and it occurs at the very outset of the Williamstown Theatre Festival's staging. For a second or so, as the seven-member ensemble gathers for an opening song, the beaming Kerry Butler appears to promise a Gidgety perkiness - more Penny Pingleton (the role she originated in Hairspray) than Dedee Truitt, that cynical 16-year-old who's a one-girl circus of psychosexual machination.

But even that seeming slip is intentional. Instantly disabusing the audience of any visions of sappy afterschool-special apercus ("After that summer, I was never the same..."), Butler bites into the role; and before long, Christina Ricci's incisive cinematic interpretation recedes from memory. Butler's Dedee is less sour and more driven -- for reasons never fully eludicated beyond the inchoate imperatives of adolescence. In short, she's chaos theory in the flesh. Yet, this Dedee is also far more endearing than her film counterpart, as is every character, embodied here by an optimal cast that includes such top-rate actors as Kaitlin Hopkins and Gregg Edelman.

Composer/lyricist Douglas J. Cohen and director Robert Jess Roth share credit for the book, based on Roos' screenplay. It's one tight trajectory -- moving all over the map while compassionately recharting the territory of the heart, all in the space of a brisk two hours. Derek McLane's set, like a train-hobbyist's miniaturization of suburbia splashed across the walls and ceiling, helps ease the rapid transitions. And when's the last time you saw a scene change involving a roll-on urinal?

Lighting out from Louisiana with her Bible-thumping boyfriend, the aptly named Randy (Ian Scott McGregor), Dedee descends on her half-brother, Bill (Edelman), an openly gay high-school English teacher in Indiana. In quick order, she seduces his "cute stupid" live-in lover, Matt (David Burtka). The outcome of their tryst is instant teen pregnancy -- although crabby Lucia (Kaitlin Hopkins), the sister of Tom, Bill's former lover who died of AIDS, is dubious. The plot moves quickly as Jason (Lance Rubin), a former student of Bill's, hatches an extortion plot in hopes of re-hooking up with Matt, and Carl (Herndon Lackey), an earnest local sheriff, pursues the young grifters to Los Angeles and Canada, all the while falling for Lucia, whose distrust of love rivals Dedee's despite her own diehard jones for Bill.

Feydeau couldn't have constructed a more intricate roundelay, and surely no one but Cohen and Roth could have finessed the transition to musical as deftly. They've worked a miracle: an adaptation that's equal to, and in some ways richer than, the original. The songs -- tightly rhymed, so they're terse, yet powerful -- seem to arise organically from the dialogue. Two numbers leap out as candidates for a torch singer's canon: Lucia's lament over her infatuation with Bill, "It's Not Enough," and "Look for Me First," Carl's plea for -- and deceptively simple definition of -- love.

You'll be moved, but with Dedee around to deride the slightest eruption of normal human sentiment, you're also sure to be regularly and riotously amused. It's a winning combination, at once bracing and embraceable. And with any luck, once this tryout has triumphed, New York will want to take this Sex to heart.