While Yale is often both hailed and criticized for being steeped in tradition, theatergoers have a chance this weekend to see something that is not just contemporary, but a world premiere.
“For Love of the Boy,” a production by the Yale Undergraduate Musical Theatre Company, opened last night at the Off Broadway Theater. The musical follows Dan, a gay teenager, as he moves to a quiet, conservative town, ultimately prompting the inhabitants to make discoveries about themselves and about the nature of love.
Although it was originally performed in a few New York readings, this weekend is the first time audiences will see the script come to life with full staging, sets, and an orchestra. It is then slated to travel to the New York Musical Theater Festival this summer.
Writer Frank Terry, a teacher and experienced playwright, heard that YUMTC was accepting submissions for new works and decided to present his script. He was inspired to compose this unconventional love story by his own childhood experience. In his adolescence, Terry was befriended by a church chorister, reminiscent of one of the musical’s characters; “he was very closeted, very gay, committed to being married and Christian,” Terry said, noting that this friendship helped him recognize his own orientation.
Despite the meaningful subject matter, however, “For Love of the Boy” is more slapstick than sentimental. “I tried to make it serious, but it didn’t fit,” Terry remarked. “I wrote a couple of scenes as a farce, and the characters started to appear.” This marks a large departure from the rest of his work, which he characterizes as more political and dramatic.
However, “For Love of the Boy” does reflect Terry’s previous work in that is very aware of itself as a musical and satirizes the campy, unnatural aspects of the genre in which Terry writes. “It’s making fun of the musical theater idiom,” the playwright said, “but it’s also celebrating it.”
This emphasis on kitsch that is apparent in the script was immediately recognized by director Todd Parmley, who drew on vaudeville traditions and presentational comedy in his staging. The production is “very surface” at first, he said, with characters cracking one-liners, crammed to the front of the stage.
However, as people begin to open up to the audience throughout the course of the play, the style becomes more realistic and true to human life; “the show naturally moves from a stereotypically campy musical to a more authentic piece — as much as a musical can be,” Parmley laughed.
Parmley has been with the project since its conception. A professional actor and teaching artist for the Theater Development Fund, he taught drama in public schools; at one of these schools, he met Terry. The two have collaborated on ‘For Love of the Boy’ ever since.
“It’s exciting to create a new work,” said Parmley. “With film, we take [novelty] for granted, but with theater, it doesn’t happen as much.”
Although most undergraduate theater productions at Yale are completely run and directed by students, many cast members welcomed the opportunity to work with a professional. “He has a specific vision,” said Justin Lo ’08. “He can spend time [on the show] throughout the day, on all aspects of it.”
Lo, who is originating the role of Dan, also enjoys the fact that there is no precedent to follow. “There’s nothing to go off of … you can cater the role to you,” he said. He also feels that the tale is one that is not often seen on Yale stages, saying, “It’s a totally different type of story, with a different feel. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as some shows.”
The show’s minimalist set and standard Broadway-style musical arrangements place the weight of the show upon Lo and his fellow actors. “For Love of the Boy” is truly a team, effort, however, with every member of the cast contributing to the production’s final effect. A small chorus of actors help to establish each scene’s physical location serving as both crowd members as well as human set-pieces.
Terry hopes audiences will notice and enjoy this departure. Unlike many other well-known musicals of the day, “For Love of the Boy,” he said, “makes people happy … It’s about having fun.”