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North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre, under the direction of Timothy E. Locklear, takes great pleasure in announcing that the final show in their 2018-19 season is the world premiere of Gay Card, a musical with music by Ryan Korell and book and lyrics by Jonathan Keebler. Both composer and lyricist were on hand on opening night as a cast of eighteen took the stage to tell us the story of Logan (Collin Dunn), a young man who was just graduated from high school and is on his way to college.
Senior year, Logan came out, announcing to the world that he is, in fact, gay. Now Logan has a problem: no one believes him ‒ not his classmates, or his teachers, or even the one other gay student at his school. The holdup is that Logan doesn't act gay. If Logan has one label during his high school career, it isn't gay; it's nerd. Bespectacled, lanky, cleanshaven, and toting an ever-present laptop, Logan defines the term. But gay? Doesn't seem to apply.
When we first meet Logan, he is seated at his laptop¸ writing in his journal. He is excited about being on his way to college. He is even more excited about leaving his hometown, where no one understood him. He feels that things are going to change for him, "Starting Now." A fresh start in a new place where he will be accepted for himself is just what he needs. And he will be going with his best friend, Melanie (Miranda Millang). He and Melanie have been friends since junior high.
At college, he is slated to bunk in Diversity House, where the majority of the students are gay. He convinces Melanie to apply there too, even though Melanie is straight. We meet several of the other students: Danielle (Chelsey Winstead) is the RA; she welcomes them to Lake Shore College (LSC) and checks them in individually. We meet Cory (Patrick Scott Holt), his friend July (Charleigh Smith), and Justin (Aydan Hansen), who's straight; Danielle takes to him immediately. A late arrival is Graham (Shane de Leon); more about him later. Logan is standing with several of the other students and tells them he is gay. Cory, who is himself gay, and July, a lesbian, don't believe him, either. They don't get the vibe from him; they accuse him of being fake gay. Logan is crushed. He thought things were going to be different here ("What It Feels Like to Belong").
Next we see Melanie seated at her laptop. She is in interrupted by Justin, who wants to know what she’s doing. She tells him she is doing research on ways to help Logan be gay. Justin shows her a site he has come across in his own surfing: The Gay Card. It is exactly what Melanie has been looking for. She texts Logan and he hurries over, excited to see what she has found. He immediately visits the site and begins to read, where he meets "the bloggers," a trio of contributors (Camden Trimmer, Brent Blakesley, and Melanie Carviou). This trio is the voice of Gay Card, and they never speak individually, always as a set. They draw Logan in immediately with advice on how one who is gay might behave, and what kinds of gays there are. Logan is immediately hooked ("Follow Me").
What follows through to the end of Act I are the many different "kinds" of gays that Logan tries out. He is a dismal failure at each and every one of them. Melanie is always there to try to help, but the only thing she can tell him is he's trying too hard.
Gay Card takes place on a simple set that seems to consist only of a backdrop, which is a collage of life at LSC, and a pair of identical benches downstage, right and left. But that backdrop is actually a trio of huge block pieces that pivot on their own axes, allowing characters to enter and exit, and fitting together in ways that allow projections of scenes onto them, either individually, as a pair, or onto all three. This is a great asset in allowing us to see where on LSC (or elsewhere, during spring break) the action is taking place. The music for the show is pre-recorded, and consists of only five instruments: Bob Kelly plays piano and other keyboards; Justin Goldner plays guitar and bass and also handles production and mixing; Sean McDaniel plays drums. The orchestrations are by Andrew Siddle.
By the end of Act I, Logan has found his niche, and suddenly he is accepted by the group. He, Graham, and Melanie join up to go to the Gay Pride Parade ("Perfect Day"). Act I closes with a company number that flows directly from that scene ("Everybody Else/Perfect Day II").
Vocally, the cast is mixed. Everyone is miked, which makes for excellent group numbers, and this ensemble does them exceptionally well ‒ especially "The Bloggers." Their harmonies are tight and their characters play well off each other. Of the main cast, all of them are fine singers, but Logan and Melanie very much require their mikes because some of their songs are quiet, and both Dunn and Millang talk softly; sometimes the lyrics fall off even with sound enhancement. De Leon as Graham was the best of the group; his songs were highly nuanced and his diction was always intelligible, even when he sang softly. Hansen also was always understandable and his Justin was an ardent suitor to Melanie, singing his songs accordingly. He also added well to the ensemble. When the entire cast was on stage, the energy and enthusiasm was palpable.
Act II presents its own problems for our friends. Logan and Graham finally come together and spend a happy night together, but they fight the next morning and separate. Logan shuns Melanie, who finally admits she is in love with him and that he has hurt her badly. Graham is smitten but cannot find the way to get back to Logan, and Logan is still enjoying his new experiences as a part of the group too much to realize what he is doing to Melanie and Graham.
Gay Card is, first and foremost, the story of Logan's wildly veering travels down the road towards finding his real self, and, as such, is a great foil for the Logan character. But Gay Card has some fine roles in the rest of the cast as well. NRACT has done a superb job of bringing this new musical to life for the first time; ensemble numbers have been well staged and were well danced, and the interaction among the main cast was sincere and heartfelt. Interestingly, Logan's trip through the first year of college is more universal than being just another gay man's trials; his difficulties and the ways he overcomes them are relatable to any freshman on a new campus. His woes and his growth are not just related to his sexuality. This is a fine first showing. Word on the street is it will be a sellout, so if you want to see it before it disappears forever, get your reservations early!
Gay Card continues through Sunday, June 23. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.