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Review: Shooting Star Charts the Meteoric Rise of a Gay Porn Performer

Florian Klein's new musical comes from personal experience.

A scene from Florian Klein's Shooting Star, directed by Dennis Corsi, at 3 Dollar Bill.
(© koitz)

"Porn will never leave you," the actors sing in Shooting Star, the new musical about adult entertainment now playing at the cavernous Bushwick gay bar 3 Dollar Bill. The more this chorus is repeated, the less it sounds like a reassuring promise. For while it is true that pornography has existed as long as art has existed, and will continue to exist as long as there are men, the guarantees offered to the performers who get hard for a living are less than rock solid.

One of those performers is this musical's creator and book writer, Florian Klein, who began his career in gay porn a decade ago and is still grinding away under the name "Hans Berlin." Originally from Bavaria, he came to this country to pursue a career in film and has succeeded in a way. Shooting Star seems to be the culmination of his shrewd observations of the industry.

Michael Friedman and the Civilians already covered much of this territory in the 2015 musical Pretty Filthy. While that show took a documentary approach, Shooting Star follows a more traditional structure. It offers an intimate look at the highs and lows (and the tops and bottoms) of an industry many times more profitable than Broadway — all through one man's story.

That's Taylor (Coleman Cummings), a young actor from Indiana struggling to pay his rent. One shift as a go-go dancer turns into a gig at Proud Studios, where he meets performer/manager Tiger Black (Grant Evan), elder statesman James Grant (Craig Winberry), and director Mr. Sue (Zuri Washington zestfully embodying an homage to the legendary gay porn director Mr. Pam). Once Taylor gets over his initial hesitation, he decides to go all-in, transforming himself into Taylor Trent (a.k.a. "TNT") the brightest star in gay porn. Catch him before he burns out.

Coleman Cummings plays Taylor Trent, and Grant Latus plaus Jesse Apollo in Shooting Star at 3 Dollar Bill.
(© koitz)

Taylor's not the only one whose career took this unexpected turn. There's also the vocalist Jesse Apollo (a charming Grant Latus) who laments, "Just for once I'd like to sing / In something more than my g-string; / In a tux and not a thong / Will they still listen to my song?"

The clever lyrics are by Erik Ransom, who has collaborated with composer Thomas Zaufke on a dance-pop score that works surprisingly well as musical theater: The songs express desires, they convey dramatic development, and they're pleasant to listen to, even if the overly loud orchestrations regularly threaten to drown the performers.

Luckily, Cummings rises above with soaring vocals so we're never in doubt about the intentions of our protagonist, even when some of his behavior undermines those intentions. The cast features several talented singers and actors, with Washington and Evan consistently wowing us with their vocal pyrotechnics.

"You'll always be my Norma Desmond," Mr. Sue says to James, and Winberry certainly seems to be channeling Gloria Swanson (or Glenn Close) in a touching if somewhat ridiculous performance of "Those Golden Days," a nostalgic number about a better time that never really existed ("When people had to pay to get their porn / Oh, so many stars were born"). This registers as the most sympathetic performance of the evening.

In a business composed of sweethearts and sadists, the latter always seem to be holding the purse strings: Juan Danner gives a brutally hilarious performance as the producer Martin Lords, a thinly veiled caricature of an infamous porn boyar which represents Klein's most acidic (and justified) bit of score-settling.

Brennan Stylez, Grant Latus, Grant Evan, Spencer Petro, Zuri Washington, Coleman Cummings, Juan Danner, and Maya Santiago appear in Shooting Star at 3 Dollar Bill.
(© koitz)

The first act zips by under the simple and efficient direction of Dennis Corsi. Barbara Erin Delo's costumes are an orgy of pleather, mesh, and lamé, while moving LED lights and Michael McCrary's gyrating choreography make us feel like we're in a nightclub full of porn stars rather than a bar backroom full of nonequity actors.

Unfortunately, Shooting Star fizzles in the second act, which takes place almost entirely at the Cocky Awards. The performers work up a sweat building tension, but when the climax finally does arrive, it's with an ooze of sentiment rather than an explosion of catharsis. Everyone seems a little disappointed.

Still, no one can accuse Klein of dishonesty: "I feel like I just watched my 20s onstage," said my companion for the evening, a veteran of the industry who lived to tell the tale. Not everyone has been so lucky. In an age when the smallest youthful indiscretions can ruin one's employment prospects, porn is a digital scarlet letter. It marks you forever but offers little long-term stability. And with the rise of OnlyFans, performers have all become sexy Willy Lomans. Americans have got to get over either our love of cheap labor or our hatred of sex, because this is unsustainable.

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