Climb Ev'ry Mountain Man

Hate to admit it, but there's something strangely persuasive about a grown man in his yummy black leather hotpants and matching suspenders. It's even better if he swaggers with art-dude nonchalance, sings with a tender, soulful voice and is wicked funny at all the right times. If you doubt our word, just take a look at the pierced and leather-bound Andy Clements, who's stealing the show in Tom Orr's gay parody Dirty Little Showtunes at Theatre New West. He and the rest of the irreverent production's cast have been whipping up -- and we do mean whipping -- such a ruckus since January, when the show first opened, that the musical has been extended for three more weeks.

One of the biggest surprises of the year, Orr's revue succeeds as much for his bawdy, brazen lyrics as for the gleeful and leather-accessorized performances that director Joe Watts has inspired from his terrific cast. Orr's songs are by turns riotously funny and sweetly sad, but they always lovingly backhand everything gay. Be it leathermen or drag queens, fellatio or rainbows, bathhouses or Broadway broads, Orr has something to say about the subject, and he says it all to the melody of some of the Great White Way's favorite standards.

Starting off with "Parody Tonight," sung to the tune of "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (see "It's a Funny Thing," January 11), the entire company introduces Orr's tunes "filled with lots of trashy little songs sung by dirty little queens." It's an amusing, if not inspired, beginning. But sometimes patience pays off, and by the time David Barron sings "Somewhat over the Rainbow," a nasty and nimble screed against gay-identity paraphernalia such as rainbow stickers, everyone in the house is hooting. (Even Councilwoman Annise Parker, who sat front row center at the performance on February 16, was laughing out loud.)

Some tunes are hysterical because of, or in spite of, their high ick factor. Take, for example, "I Love Men," in which Clements and Barron sing "I love men. I wanted sea men in my mouth in South Pacific." Then there's the sweetly mean variation on a Sound of Music tune, in which the worried nuns harmonize about the problem of "Maria." Only now the nuns are men (Clements, Barron and Randy Boatright), and they're wondering "How Do You Solve Your Problem Gonorrhea." Sample line: "You've got to take a chance, to get into someone's pants." Our favorite has to be the Gypsy send-up, "Ya Gotta Get a Gimmick," about the many artful ways to give fellatio. One prefers to do it with ice cubes -- because "since I got a gimmick, the Ice Man Cometh every day." Another prefers a deep-throat method -- "I might have my defects, but I have no gag reflex."

The most clever writing comes when Orr attacks a few familiar gay stereotypes. The song "Nude" rags on all the gay plays that continually sell out merely because the stage is packed with naked men: "You've got a plot that ought to get booed, nude." "Nothin' Like a Dame" takes place in a "leather piano bar" where "retro Castro clones" sing loud and proud about the fact that they don't act anything like their drag-queen sisters who are "Dressin' Up Like a Doll" at the bar next door. When the two factions come together on a riff of Oklahoma!'s "The Farmer and the Cowman," retooled here as "The Leatherman and the Drag Queen," the house comes down; "Oh, the leathermen and the drag queens should be friends," sings the company, as they do-si-do and stomp their high-heeled shoes to the folksy tune, made delightfully droll with Orr's radiant irony.

Orr proves he can be compelling when serious, too, particularly with "Another Hundred T-Cells" (Clements and Craig Stephens), which is sung to the Company tune "Another Hundred People." The urgency of the Sondheim music suits Orr's lyrics well. The two actors stand in spots on opposite sides of the stage and sing about the people who live with the fears and complications of HIV, those people who count their T-cells and viral loads and pray for a cure. The number is chilling.

Even accompanist and musical director Charles Baker gets in on the act. At one point he falls face down on the piano. When he sits up, he has a tiny dress suck to his glasses; he immediately breaks into the tune "I've Sewn a Costume to My Face" set to Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face." The moment is sophomoric, silly and an absolute scream.

There's little in the way of lighting -- the group does wonders with flashlights -- and there's no set at all, but the spirited energy of the cast, coupled with Orr's astute and hysterical observations on gay life, makes for a wonderfully entertaining night of theater. Most amazing of all, nobody gets nude.

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Lee Williams