The hottest thing about In Heat is the theater in which it's playing. Sweatbox conditions prevail at Planet Earth, a fusty warehouse with no central cooling. I left the theater lightheaded, but not with glee over the program I'd just seen.
A musical revue about love and sex, In Heat means to be titillating but is merely tiresome. Its 80 minutes of song and storytelling, cobbled together by Planet Earth artistic director Greg London, merges amorous anecdotes with familiar tunes from famous Broadway musicals. When the union works, as it only occasionally does, the result is smart and sexy. Most of the time, In Heat only smolders.
That's because the frequently naughty bits London has written to tie these tunes together often do little to complement the schmaltzy songs they connect. His company is too often found standing stock-still, reading aloud from fictitious personal ads and leering, before bursting into songs about the rigors of romance. This overworked bit (won't someone pass an ordinance against the use of romance ads as clever musical-theater devices?) provides little more than a speedy segue from one song to the next. Elsewhere, stories about the cast members' first crushes or early sexual encounters do nothing to enliven or entertain.
Planet Earth Theatre, 909 North Third Street
Continues through Saturday, August 19
The program works best when it subverts the romantic message of some earnest moon-in-June chestnut: "You'll Never Get Away From Me," from Gypsy, takes on new meaning when it's sung by a woman who has tied her boyfriend to a chair so he can't leave her. And, with a little setup, the slushy "Live Alone and Like It" (from, among other things, Putting It Together) becomes an arch and clever ode to masturbation.
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This show could have been called Sondheim Has Sex. Ten of its 18 songs are culled from Sondheim musicals, most of them written before the youthful cast was out of training pants. Their leather-clad, strategically pierced hipness further limits the program's appeal; these are storytellers whose earliest points of reference involve MTV and the Internet. When the oldster in the bunch is all of 32 and grew up in a commune, and one of his castmates complains that no one cared that his prom date was a boy, few in the audience can relate.
On the other hand, London's characters cover all sexual bases. There's a neurotic woman seeking marriage to Mr. Right, and a flamboyant bisexual gal who's open to everything. The men are equally divided -- two are straight, two are gay; two are romantics, two are sleazeballs. Every possible combination is given its turn, though most often the story told is of the futility or failure of love. The occasional hopeful note (like an amusing take on the girlish, winsome "Miller's Son" from A Little Night Music, in which one of the stanzas is sung by a man) provides pleasant counterpoint to a heap of romantic rejections.
The young talent deliver occasional surprises, though more often they provide reasons they shouldn't be cast in singing roles. I've always wanted to hear Jourdan Alexis Green sing solo, and, after enjoying her in several comedies, I got to. Her voice proved to be as big and lovely as I'd imagined it would be. Green's reading of Maltby and Shire's "I Think I May Want to Remember Today" from Starting Here, Starting Now is exhilarating, and she punches out a soulful rendition of Dreamgirl's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," as well. Her castmates deliver less tuneful versions of musical-comedy classics, usually faring better when they're heard in pairs or in three-part harmony.
Unfortunately, In Heat rarely catches fire. Its inadequacies begin with its Day-Glo, two-page playbill, which proclaims the production "A Musical Review (sic) About Love, Sex, and Obsession." Which, I suppose, makes this page of opinions a negative revue of a tedious and largely unsexy musical.