It's rare when I get the chance to review a new musical -- usually I'm watching the national tours of Broadway successes -- so it's completely unheard of for me to witness the continued development of that same show. (If this keeps up, I might have to start writing actual reviews ... and then where would we all be?)
Last fall, the Duquesne University Red Masquers premiered Homeless: The Musical, with book and lyrics by Christopher Dimond and music by Suzanne Polak. I remember loving the audacity of this po-mo satire about the downtrodden poor rising up against the moneyed elite keeping them in their place. With its screwy and skewed viewpoint, outlandishly vulgar taste and heightened exuberance, the production was, as the British would say, "cheeky fun."
Now the Summer Company presents the next step in the process with a retooled Homeless ... and all in all it's an interesting event.
The first production, obviously, featured a student company offering infectious enthusiasm in place of more seasoned talent. Here, the roles are cast with performers who've been around the block, musical-comedy-wise. Additionally, Dimond and Polak have added/deleted numbers, and restructured and rewritten scenes.
The good news is that when a cast features performers as strong as Grant Bojarski, Chris Sullivan, Gayle Pazerski and Jill Jeffrey, we get a clearer picture of what work needs to be done. Which, oddly, may be the bad news, too. For as funny and fresh as Homeless is, Dimond's book and lyrics can be woefully juvenile at times, and Polak's score needs much more variation and melodic development.
Still, that's not necessarily awful news: Musicals are notorious for how much reworking they require. (It was when he was on the road with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum that writer Larry Gelbart famously said: "If Hitler's alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical.")
But something did occur to me that might be an insurmountable problem: When the creators finally get the show to where it needs to be, I have a queasy suspicion that what they'll end up with will be something very similar to Urinetown: The Musical (to which Homeless already owes a lot in terms of style and content.)
I could be, and in fact hope I am, very wrong. But I do know that I can't wait for the next version to find out.
Homeless: The Musical continues through Sat., July 28. Peter Mills Theater, Rockwell Hall, Duquesne University campus, Uptown. 412-396-4997