Back in high school, Howard Crabtree wanted to join the Ice Capades more than anything. A "drama queen" of the highest order, he pranced about school dressed in furry, spotted cowboy chaps and a spangled vest. It didn't matter that "Mrs. Roundhole," his spinsterly, uptight guidance counselor, told him he'd be a performer when "pigs fly," or that New York casting directors thought he was "too light in the loafers" for the stage, Howard wanted a life in the theater. And what better way to make that happen than to stage your own musical revue casting yourself as the lead character? Such is the premise of the real Howard Crabtree's loopy, drag-show revue When Pigs Fly, the Drama Desk-nominated musical that's making its Houston premiere at Masquerade Theatre.
Wonderfully irreverent and politically savvy, this farce about musical theater, gay love and everything in between is set against a bumbling run-through of a show that Howard (Greg Gorden) and four of his friends have cobbled together (all the performers, except Gorden, play themselves). This revue is fraught with actor-sized egos, failing sets, absurd and often obscene songs, and some hilariously ridiculous costumes. These elements collide into a flouncy swirl of feathers, velvet, sequins and pink socks, which is as meaningful as it is funny.
Puns abound. Take, for instance, the clever ensemble piece "Color Out of Colorado," about how much America needs gays to be complete. "America couldn't do without us," goes the song. "You can't take the sissy out of Mississippi....You can't take the homo out of Oklahoma....You can't have New York City without Queens."
Even better is Matthew George, whose dark good looks and sexy voice make for absolute magic. He sings a recurring gag tune in which he puns on the names of several right-wing political blowhards. A single spotlight shines on a wine-colored armchair that he drags onto the stage. Slouching down into the cushions, all love-sick and full of ennui, he pulls a silver lame hanky from his smoking jacket pocket, then sings a lurid torch song about his unrequited love for such men as Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott and Rush Limbaugh: "Strom, go ask your mom if I can take you to the senior, senior, senior prom," he cries; and "Trent, I think I'm spent. When they say your name I start to pitch a tent"; or best of all, "Rush, why don't you just hush . . . . Though bringing it up might not be proper, do you know you share your name with a popper?" Naughty, silly and cunningly clever, this is political satire at its wicked best.
But the best gags of all are visual. Credit director Gigi Wynn Perkins for pulling them off in style. When Pigs Fly is utterly true to its campy roots. "Garden of Eden" features a very buff Brandon K. Matthews dressed in nothing but a green leaf, next to Robert Kislin, who is all done up as a gloriously apple-heavy tree. "Shaft of Love" shows off Gorden and Kislin in black leather S&M garb with arrows protruding from the various body parts affected by love, including the head, heart and, well, elsewhere. And "Baby Jane Crossover" is made complete with a very life-like Bette Davis dummy wheeled onto the stage by a blond and curly locked Matthew George.
Taken together, this theatrical fluff with the biting ironic edge makes for an easy summer night out. Mrs. Roundhole was obviously terribly wrong about Crabtree's place in the drama world.
When Pigs Fly runs through Saturday, June 17, at Masquerade Theatre, 1537 N. Shepherd, (713)861-7045. $10 - $20.
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