Bathhouse the Musical continues at the Above the Stag Theatre, London until 29 March.
Star rating: 3 stars ★ ★ ★
Written by Tim Evanicki and Esther Daack, Bathhouse the Musical returns to the Above The Stag Theatre for what will undoubtedly be another sell-out season. The UK’s only full-time LGBT theatre fell in love with the piece in 2009, when director Tim McArthur introduced audiences to the innocent but determined Billy, who seeks sexual distraction at his local gay bathhouse. It’s not a particularly demanding piece of musical theatre but it is entertaining, with a rack of catchy comedy songs and silly situations worthy of a Carry On movie.
The original production, at the old venue in Victoria, featured Jon R Harrison as the fresh-faced Billy and later in the run McArthur valiantly stepped in when one of the actors was injured. The musical returned last summer with McArthur reviving his role, where it played an extended run to full houses. Now it returns, this time clutching a 2015 Boyz Magazine Scene Award for Best Musical and once again boasting healthy advance bookings. The current production features McArthur, who also directs, and sees the return of Harrison in the ensemble, perpetuating the family atmosphere engendered by the Above The Stag team.
Evanicki and Daack’s style pastiches popular tunes and themes to create their musical numbers, a device which is echoed occasionally in Carole Todd’s lively choreography. Flashes of Chicago, Miss Saigon and Beauty and the Beast add to the fun and Todd’s ‘Clickin’ For Dick’ routine raises the stakes ten-fold. This year performances are slicker, snippets of well-chosen new material improve the book and a new song pops up to complement the score.
The narrative is still woefully thin and the show is possibly better described as a revue rather than musical, affectionately satirising the gay community and aspects of gay culture often evaded by mainstream media. The audience is guided by a voiceover from Gyles Brandreth, whose plumy tones assist Billy in his quest to fit-in and get-off at the tubs. Here there are closeted businessmen, bears, twinks, muscle-boys – a veritable smorgasbord of stereotypes ready to give Billy a helping hand.
Will Ferris boasts a penchant for hirsute men with his chorus of ‘Bear Chaser’, while Matthew Harper exclaims the import of his ‘Workout’ to keep the body beautiful. ‘Christmas At the Baths’ flicks a jaunty towel at the ‘family values’ message so often preached at that time of year, but it also marks the turning point of Billy’s story. Ryan Lynch’s Billy is foolishly looking for love at the bathhouse and bemoans his lot so far with the musicals’ signature ballad, ‘Lonely Love Song’. It’s a melancholy number that stands out as a jewel in this otherwise bawdy romp and Lynch performs it particularly well.
This is not a love story however and the real fun is to be had by numbers such as ‘Penises Are Like Snowflakes’ and Tim McArthur’s uproarious ‘Bath House ABC’s’ – replete with fan dance and feather boas. Bathhouse the Musical is not for everyone – certainly not for children – but it’s a fun piece of vaudeville that appears to be getting better with age.