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Ain't We Got Fun!

This imperfect but charming musical tells a gay love story set in the late 1920s and features a treasure trove of songs from that era. logo
Daniel Vincent and Bryan Lelek
in Ain't We Got Fun
There's an undeniable charm to Ain't We Got Fun! despite its many imperfections. This musical, with a book by Michael McFaden, tells a gay love story set in the late 1920s. It features a treasure trove of songs from that era, including Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" and Kay Swift's "Can't We Be Friends" (written by Kay Swift with her husband James Warburg, wrtiting under the pseudonym Paul James), along with such lesser known tunes as "He's So Unusual" (by Al Lewis, Al Sherman, and Abner Silver) and "Pu-leeze! Mr. Hemingway" (by Walter Kent, Milton Drake, and Abner Silver). McFaden has also contributed some additional lyrics for several of the songs, mainly to heighten the gay content.

The musical follows young lovers Benny (Daniel Vincent) and Oscar (Bryan Lelek), who live in the small town of South Haven, Michigan. Theirs is a clandestine romance, complicated by the fact that Oscar is being pursued by Chloe (Melissa Landry), a vacationing dilettante who's clueless as to the sexual orientation of the object of her affection. Oscar takes off for Chicago to pursue a more openly gay lifestyle there. He's befriended by a female impersonator called Miss Amanda Luze (Mark Middleton) and takes a job at an all-male burlesque place called The Footlight Frolic, run by Roscoe Ruben (Danny Procter). Chloe and Benny come to Chicago to look for Oscar, and they're not sure that they like what they find.

Lelek sings sweetly and has a boyish charm that's suitable to his character, but his acting is a bit wooden. Vincent has a strong stage presence and harmonizes nicely with Lelek. As Chloe, Landry doesn't always hit the right notes. On the other hand, though Middleton doesn't have a great singing voice (it sounds a bit like Harvey Fierstein's), he does have the charisma and panache to sell Amanda's numbers. The show uses a framing device in which an older Oscar (Vernon Kreun) and Chloe (Layne Sasser) look back on the action; it's hokey but it's made worthwhile by Sasser's hysterically funny performance.

Rounding out the cast are Steve Mogck as a bouncer named Meathook, who is far gentler than his nickname suggests; Ron Sanford as Mr. Hemingway, who makes a brief appearance late in the show; and a terrific barbershop quartet (Robert M. Bowden, Shawn Carnes, L.T. Kirk, and Michael McFaden). Stephen Randolph has done a swell job of creating a period feel with the costumes; the men look especially sharp in their tuxedos.

Many of the dance numbers, choreographed by Gregg Colson, are performed tentatively by the cast. The production uses pre-recorded music that's not timed sharply enough with the dialogue; on more than one occasion, there's dead space as the actors wait for the music to begin. McFadden, who also directs the show, hasn't quite figured out how to make it flow smoothly from one scene to the next. Particularly awkward is a sequence that switches back and forth from Roscoe's reactions to the stock market crash of 1929 to a phone call between Chloe and Benny.

Presented as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival, Ain't We Got Fun! is an amusing and lighthearted entertainment. If the show is to have a future, McFaden needs to do some serious work on the book, cutting down its melodramatic excesses and providing more character development. Still, the basic premise is strong, and it's wonderful to hear songs from this bygone era.

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