After the success of Bathhouse: The Musical! earlier in the year, Above The Stag Theatre has now produced Rent Boy: The Musical, written by David Leddick with a score by Andrew Sargent, and originally produced for the New York stage. It features the life stories of six male escorts in the context of the year’s Hookie Awards ceremony, full of suggestive awards such as ‘Best Body’ or ‘Best Top’.
Even though the show creates a playful atmosphere all the way through, it fails to maintain its energy and at times it feels irregular. It is impossible to decide if this musical is consciously shallow or if fails at being laugh-out-loud funny; and even though there are a few laughs, it falls in the predictable, while the lyrics are sometimes plain awkward. This is all the more frustrating because there are very good ideas and concepts that are outweighed by stereotypes.
Conleth Kane and Frank Loman – respectively rent boy Devon Williams and the ceremony MC – lead the cast, and it is on them where the weight of this production rests. By far the most vocally apt, Kane’s voice feels at times strained but in place and beautiful throughout. Loman, as emcee with a twist, has a powerful voice that soars over everyone else’s. He is also completely at ease in his role(s) and makes the action fluid and seamless, which is particularly important in a show in which every character is introduced and left to sing a song before moving on to the next one. The ensemble of rent boys is enjoyable as a whole, but it is vocally weak at times, particularly during their solos. However, group numbers are much more interesting, like ‘Who Invented the Jockstrap?’, which also serves as a closing number. The duets between the presenter and Devon, and between him and the Client are also highlights, being the only moments in the show that felt truly emotional and devoid of ‘professional bitchiness’.
Overall, it is an enjoyable musical, with some sparkly moments and tons of sass. And, of course, it shows off its charismatic, good-looking lads. However, it fails to be the comedy it could be. Clichéd dialogue and easy rhymes burden a very interesting concept, and it can feel even amateurish at times. On the other hand, music-wise it felt simplistic and utterly predictable, being unable to deliver any memorable tune.
I left the Stag feeling I had just seen either a soft cabaret or a musicalised group stand-up show, and maybe that is exactly the issue with Rent Boy: it does not find its place or genre and often crosses the line between sexual comedy and cheap puns, without actually being sexually charged or a full-on satire. This is not to say the show is not entertaining: it certainly is, but it is more panto than sexual comedy.
Rent Boy: The Musical is playing at the Above The Stag Theatre until 2 August. For tickets and more information, see the Above The Stag Theatre website.