Presented by Theatre of Love
Directed by James Wenley
Choreography by Lydia Zanetti; Musical Direction by Paul Barrett
Basement Theatre, Auckland | September 18-29
Opportunities to see big-budget musicals in Auckland are always few and few between. Most are put on by amateur theatre groups or high schools, but as a fan of musicals, I was excited to see Day After Night, an ambitious, much-talked about venture by Theatre of Love. I was especially excited to see a New Zealand musical that also tackled a much-talked issue: gay adoption. However, there are a few flaws that unfortunately drag this earnest, lively show down.
Day After Night revolves around a gay relationship, between drag performer Harry (Kinloch Anstiss) and businessman David. Put simply, Harry wants a baby, David does not. And so Harry goes on a wild goose chase to get a baby, with his best friend Blanche (Jess Holly Bates) along for the ride. Meanwhile, David shacks up with a boy from Esquires, literally named Esquires Boy (Greg Padoa). There’s a lot going on in Day After Night, not always to the benefit of the play.
A weakness of a lot of musicals, even the very great ones, tends to be the text. That is, the actual script, story, structure that is the foundation for the music. For me, the biggest flaw of Day After Night is the text. From the get go, the relationship between Harry and David never convinces, and I didn’t believe that these people would ever get into a relationship together, let alone get to the point where it was plausible that Harry would want to raise a baby with David. Crucially, it is never established why Harry wants the baby, and I feel this was a missed opportunity. There’s been a huge amount of debate around the issue of gay adoption, and the play fails to be topical by engaging with any of this debate. Harry just wants a baby. It’s a fatal flaw, and one the show never gets over. Harry goes on almost constantly about wanting a baby, but that desire is never backed up.
This lack of depth is present throughout the show; the songs do some deepening and illuminating of inner life of the characters, particularly Harry, but in between them the characters never feel plausible or relatable. Harry comes off as a complete cartoon and stereotype, firing off jokes and references constantly, and overreacting to every setback. For however much he wants a baby, he seems far too unstable to be able to handle one. The other characters are similarly thin: David is a grump, Esquires Boy is as ill-dveloped as the name suggests, and Blanche is a stereotypical fruit fly.
The show also has a few structural issues; namely, that it’s top-heavy with plot, and even though the first act goes by surprisingly quickly, the second act drags. A lot of the songs seem like padding, and there’s very few plot points. Crucially, for me at least, the show resolves an entirely different conflict than the one it sets up at the start. It becomes less about Harry wanting a baby, and more about Harry recovering from his relationship with David. It’s jarring, and seems a little forced.
While the text may be lacking, the songs are definitely enjoyable. Benjamin Cleaver has a clear style here, largely pop, with a few steps into rock and a few steps into a more classical Broadway style. They’re entertaining, especially ‘Earth Mother’, which is pulled off by the vocally gifted Jess Holly Bates, and was the song that I desperately wanted to buy on iTunes after the show ended.
The cast is generally charismatic and pretty fun to watch. Kinloch Anstiss might play up a few of Harry’s more stereotypically queeny traits, but he’s got a physicality that is fascinating to watch, and a pleasant voice too. As his partner David, Paul Harrop has a wicked set of pipes that completely fills the stage of the Basement, while Greg Padoa is appealing as Esquires Boy. For me, the highlights were Jess Holly Bates and The Pretties (the chorus), who constantly drew my attention on stage. Bates gets some of the best songs and has a bizarre energy that serves the play very well. Again, the lack of depth is something the actors can’t get over, but they’re always engaging in their roles.
I definitely respect Day After Night for the issues it brings up and how earnestly it’s been put on and promoted by everybody involved, but I can’t help but feel that it could’ve benefited from some more development, workshopping, and or perhaps a bigger venue; even in the small space it was staged, the music seemed overpowered by the vocalists and the lighting came off as garish. It’s another ambitious venture from Theatre of Love, but I think their reach may have exceeded their grasp in this case.