Theater Review: Uptown’s World Premiere of Crazy, Just Like Me Is Patchy, But Enjoyable

Drew Gasparini wrote the first incarnation of his musical Crazy, Just Like Me at the ripe old age of 19. The world premiere at the Kalita Humphreys Theater last weekend, part of the Uptown Players’ first-ever Dallas Pride Festival, may very well look and sound rather different from that first germ of an idea. It’s a cutesy new musical with plenty of charm that’s thankfully free of any grand delusions. However, I’d still rather see it in a black box rather than on a main stage.

That’s not damning criticism, either. Many fine plays are better suited to smaller spaces. This one is new, as I said, and raw— ready for performances, but still in need of work (the kind it seems to be getting in the lead up to this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, where Gasparani is directly involved with the production). The overture is negligible and both the opening and closing numbers, “Crazy, Just Like Me” and “Feel Good Never Ending,” are weak. Usually writers struggle most with a saggy middle. Less so here.

Regardless, the opening song introduces us to Simon, a depressed, confused, and clearly repressed twenty-something stuck in a dead-end job. But it’s fine because he’s got his buddy Mike (Alexander Ross, who isn’t entirely convincing as a bro). Simon and Mike have been friends since they played together in a sandbox at age three, a detail we’re whacked over the head with repeatedly, and roomies since college. Mike, successful, handsome, super straight, has been dating a lovely girl named Lauren for the past 18 months. Simon misses his best friend, kinda, but he figures Mike will do as he always does and dump the girl before things get serious. The two of them will live in platonic Playstation-playing bliss forever. Alas, this is not to be.

If all the songs had mirrored the opener, I would have been bored and in serious need of earplugs. Our three leads are all decent enough singers on their own, and Kayla Carlyle, who plays Lauren, is much more than decent. She has a serious voice. It just that when they all sing together, the boys drown her out and the effect is neither pleasant nor entirely on key.

Happily, things improve. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed myself, even though the lyrics are hit or miss, the plot device of the miracle therapist, Dr. Headman (Ryan Roach), starts to grate, and the staging, what with its split level and strangely mod decor, doesn’t fit. With many of the scenes in the second act occurring up high, set designer/technical director Andy Redmon takes the action and the characters too far away. “Funky Fried Piece of Man Meat,” a song where Mike psychs Simon up for a blind date with a friend of Lauren’s, is funny, but it felt like a song Gasparini wrote at 19 because he thought it was just the most hilarious thing ever. It’s not. The strongest numbers give us more of a glimpse into the characters’ interior lives, like Lauren’s “Slow Down” and Simon’s “Little Bit.”

Ultimately, it’s a fun bit of fantasy. This is no The Normal Heart; this is an idealized version of our present world where the notion that anyone would reject their son or daughter or  lifelong friend simply because he or she turns out to be gay is barely considered for more than the length of a song— and of course, the anticipated rejection never comes. There is only acceptance. As many of the audience members probably know, this is hardly real, but the thinking is nice. As it is, the musical perfectly fits the spirit of the Pride Festival. The audience on the evening I attended couldn’t have been more appreciative and responsive. They laughed, they clapped, they cheered for Simon’s impending self-realization. That kind of goodwill goes a long way, so I’d be curious to see how it plays at the NYMTF later this month.