A Dance for Rylie
A catchy score and a sweet gay male love story are at the heart of Stephan Davis' new musical, presented as part of Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
The show charts the relationship between Rylie (Philip Deyesso), a young HIV+ gay man coming off of a bad break-up, and Matthew (Adam Tackett) whom he meets while clubbing. Rylie isn't quite ready to start dating again, but Matthew proves persistent.
Deyesso is charming in the musical's title role, although he doesn't really demonstrate the angst that seems embedded in the lyrics of some of his earlier songs. Tackett has a strong presence, but was hindered at the performance I attended by a microphone that wasn't working properly, making it hard to catch the words in several of his songs.
Kimberly Michelle Thomas has pluck as Rylie's best friend Samantha, and brings out the humor within the script. Similarly, Valerie Lemon does a fine job as Rylie's mother, Katherine, even if she didn't quite make her high note in her otherwise delightful solo, "The Many Kinds of Love."The musical covers a number of years and the action is presented in an episodic fashion. Matthew and Rylie's relationship has its ups and downs -- the lowest point coming when the two men are traveling and Matthew is kept in the waiting room unable to be with Rylie who has had to check into a hospital. Their legal marriage in New York seems to have no meaning to the unsympathetic doctor, who does not recognize Matthew as a relative.
However, while important moments like this are shown, other equally significant moments remain frustratingly undramatized. For example, while we do see when Rylie first discloses his HIV status to Matthew, a blackout immediately follows and as the next scene begins, the couple has temporarily separated. The audience does get to see them make up, but it seems like the emotionally fraught period of their break-up might have been more interesting to see staged and could have added a welcome complexity to both of their characters.
Davis' score is consistently hummable, and he is particularly good at constructing ballads. A highlight is "For Heaven (Dance for Me)" which Matthew initially sings to get Rylie out on the dance floor during an early phase of their courtship, and which Rylie reprises with different lyrics close to the end of the show in an emotional scene that is likely to reduce audience members to tears.