Gemini The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Matt Schicker
September 21, 2007
Albert Innaurato's play Gemini was shocking at the time of its Broadway premiere in 1977. It had strong language and dealt openly with the still taboo topic of a young man's homosexuality. But Innaurato's slightly unsavory but lovable South Philadelphians won over audiences and ran for four years. Since then the play has been produced regularly at regional theaters and had an off-Broadway revival in 1999. Now Innaurato and composer Charles Gilbert have "musicalized" the play.
The big question is: does music reveal any new facet of this familiar and established play? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Though a couple of the musical numbers offer great opportunities for performers to entertain the audience, mostly the music slows up the action. If you had to find places in Gemini for songs, I guess I'd say they found the right places, but the characters already are so well-drawn in the original play, it just doesn't seem necessary, for instance, to hear Francis (the young man at the center of the story) express his inner thoughts through song.
But for the moment, I'll imagine that there was no original "straight" version of Gemini, and consider the Gemini The Musical on its own terms. The story centers on a middle-class South Philly family and their neighbors: Fran and his "lady friend" Lucille live next door to Bunny and her eccentric, not-so-bright son Herschel. Fran's son Francis has returned home from Harvard, the only resident of the neighborhood to aspire to higher education, let alone an Ivy League school. Francis is sensitive and enamored of Maria Callas records, quite a contrast to the crass, loud, foul-mouthed characters who surround him. In light of his new life at Harvard, Francis is painfully aware of just how tacky his kinfolk are, and he is mortified when college buddies Judith and Randy unexpectedly show up on the eve of Francis' birthday. Judith and Francis have a romantic history, which she tries to rekindle, but Francis only has eyes for the athletic Randy. When this attraction is revealed to everyone, all hell breaks loose. Friendships and family ties are threatened, but in the end the bond of love is strong enough to bring everyone back together, and the story ends on a hopeful note.
No programs were available to the audience at the performance I attended, so I will try to recall as many details as I can, but forgive me if I don't know the names of the musical numbers. The songs are pretty standard musical theatre fare, with a few standouts. Things get off to a shaky start with a run-of-the-mill opening solo for Fran in which he introduces the scrappy South Philly neighborhood where the action takes place. The first act closer, sweetly sung by Dan Micciche as Francis, has musical and emotional depth, but leaves the audience on a quiet, bittersweet note when most everything that came before is comic.
The real highlight of the entire piece, musically and otherwise, is the opening of the second act, a Mozart-inspired septet which allows each character to express themselves as they watch Bunny clinging to a telephone pole in a half-hearted suicide attempt. It's a great idea—probably the best in terms of musicalizing this story—to have these distinctly unclassy folks emote in the style of Così fan Tutte and The Marriage of Figaro; it plays on the operatic emotions of these larger-than-life personalities and serves as a double salute to Francis's fondness for opera and his family's Italian heritage. I found myself wishing that anything else in the show would come close to matching the interesting layers of music, humor, and pathos in this number.
The cast is terrific and they do their best to make the piece seem exciting. Joel Blum is perfectly cast as Fran, the working-class father who has a tough time relating to his more refined son, Francis, who is played sympathetically by the wide-eyed Dan Micciche. Bethe Austin doesn't seem entirely comfortable in the role of Lucille, Fran's middle-aged girlfriend who tries too hard to keep everyone hungry. An extended comic bit involving Lucille's eating habits falls painfully flat. Jonathan Kay is great as the dim-witted, public-transportation-obsessed Herschel, and Kirsten Bracken and Ryan Reid are fine as the WASP-y brother and sister Judith and Randy.
The star of the show, however, is Linda Hart as Bunny, reprising the role she played in the off-Broadway revival. Her performance is a testament to the power of showmanship to distract from less-than-powerful musical material and make anything "work." She nails the characterization, looks great in the gaudy get-ups, and puts her trademark raspy belt to memorable use. Her funky second-act number, in which she celebrates a win in court, gives Hart the opportunity to strut her stuff, and strut she does, with choreographer Rhonda Miller's help. It's the only other moment in the show that fires on all cylinders.
The production is stymied by a combination of limited technical rehearsals and an overambitious set design. Director Mark Robinson attempts some fluid transitions that don't work, and Dana Kenn's clumsy, too-literal scenic design doesn't help things. The lights by Philip Rosenberg seem unfinished.