Up the Gary
nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
August 21, 2007
When you enter the Milagro Theatre to watch Up the Gary, observe the way Andrew Barron waits on a bench. You'll notice that his feet tap delicately in an uneven rhythm, and he unconsciously fiddles with his hands while looking hopefully from the left to the right. He is not so much agitated as worried, his eyebrows raised in a V-shape, his lips slightly apart as if prepared to speak eagerly at any moment. The character he plays, Sam, carries that worried look everywhere he goes and in everything he does. That is, except for when he is embodying his hero, Gary Glitter, the 1970s British glam rock icon. As a Gary Glitter impersonator—sorry, a Gary Glitter "dedication artist"—Sam suddenly transforms into a cocksure, exhilarating entertainer, singing with a powerful belt and dancing with the reckless abandon of a rock star.
Andrew Barron is a skilled performer, and this one-man show, which Barron co-wrote with director Jessica Beck, displays those skills while still telling a compelling story. A postman leading a fairly ho-hum life in U.K., Sam finds happiness in caring for his niece, Sarah, and in celebrating 1970s glam rock, especially Gary Glitter. After enrolling in confidence classes and singing Glitter tunes at Karaoke clubs, Sam lands a gig on the TV show "Stars in Their Eyes," which in turn leads to being a professional Gary Glitter impersonator. (It is, for the record, a very good impression.)
While he was very popular for a time in England, Gary Glitter is known best here as a one-hit wonder with the sports arena staple, "Rock and Roll Parts One and Two." But no need to fear if you don't recognize him: Up the Gary provides an enjoyable lesson on Glitter and glam rock in general. But anyone who knows what eventually came out about Glitter—in the late 1990s, he pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography—probably suspects that Sam, wholly obsessed with "The Leader," is not destined for a happily-ever-after ending. Beck's eerie opening image instills the feeling that Sam, sitting alone and pathetically gazing around the abandoned space, seems fated for a tragic end.
Composed of flashbacks from Sam's life, this in-depth character study is entirely written as one-sided conversations, with Barron speaking (very convincingly) to imaginary people. Barron and Beck's dialogue itself is funny, smart, and never expository, allowing the audience to fill in the other side of Sam's conversations. Barron also often assumes other personalities, including Sam's condescending brother and phony agent. We could have used more information about the characters whom Barron does not assume, including Sam's girlfriend, who inspires Sam to start singing. Also, Sam's somewhat abusive father, who completely disapproves of Sam and his career, is painted in broad strokes. But when Barron plays those other characters, we get a chance to see the world through Sam's eyes and to understand his mundane, isolated existence.
As a result, the joy he receives from his harmless passion is sharper and more sympathetic. Watching the vulnerable Sam step onto the stage as the charismatic Gary Glitter—his silver pants hugging his hips (fashioned authentically by Amy Martell) and his silhouette highlighted magnificently by an upstage spotlight (designed playfully by Phil Hewitt)—you are happy to see Sam so elated. And even if it is a strange obsession, you realize how few people actually find something that provides such sheer bliss, and you grieve to know that Sam will lose it.