Jason Michael Butler, Jason T. Gaffney, and Eric Ruben in Looking For Billy Haines.
BOTTOM LINE: It's the Peanuts gang, all grown up, moving to New York and trying to make it in show business.
In Looking For Billy Haines, written by Suzanne Brockman and Will McCabe, the audience follows the exploits of Jamie Hollis (played by Jason T. Gaffney) as he searches for self and equilibrium in the business and city that offer little in the way of solace or stability. Along the way, we meet his wacky roommates: Sugar (Annie Kerins), the unhappy actor; Alan (Eric Ruben) the hippie New-Age chakra/Aura dude; and Lynne (Apolonia Davalos), the even-keeled dancer with a boyfriend in Iraq who can't stop proposing marriage over email. Jamie struggles to balance a deeply closeted lawyer boyfriend who can't commit to an open lifestyle, the Wacky Capers his Wacky Roommates get into, defaulting credit cards, and his big audition for a biopic of Billy Haines (the first openly gay actor of the silver screen) who threw away a brilliant career in order to keep living publicly with his partner. Billy Haines and his life story inspire Jamie, and he finds himself through his imagined interactions and fantasies of Billy (they dance together periodically, and the joy is palpable).
I am intrigued by the idea. The impulse to morph what would be a standard New York showbiz dating comedy into something a little more magical, a little more theatrical, by setting Jamie's story against Billy's, is nice (also, it's not often one gets tap interludes in a straight play, and I love that). While the germ of the idea is intriguing, it remains just that; intriguing. The concept holds promise, the show doesn't gel.
The script is okay, some moments have sparkle, but most moments fall on the floor with a heavy thud. The direction and design get the job done in a perfectly average way, and the choreography is lovely. While the actors look to be wonderful tap dancers, they are a bit cardboard for a character based comedy. Apalonia Davalos has some nice moments, but she's only a supporting character, and the three main men, Jamie, Billy (Joseph Cullinane), and Harlan (the closeted boyfriend, played by Jason Michael Butler) are as bland as can be.
Is it terrible? No. Is it wonderful? Nope. It's just kind of...eh. It sits there. I enjoyed some parts, I checked my watch at other parts, and I felt sad when the tap dancing ended, because I'd have to feign interest in Sugar's cheating boyfriend or Alan's search for chakra balance.
Oh, showbiz New York roommate dating shows about showbiz and New York and dating and roommates, where would we be without you? SIGH. All in all, an interesting idea that, in execution, is very much short of its promise.
(Looking For Billy Haines is presented by Small or Large Productions and plays at the Lion Theater, 410 W. 42nd Street, through May 22nd. Performances are Mondays at 8pm, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $49 and are available at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200.)