By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
With meticulous musical direction, flawless casting, and an engaging and moving story, Diversionary Theatre’s “This Beautiful City” is masterfully done, poignant at every turn. The story combines history, music, comedy and anguish in a play that is as relevant today as it was at its opening debut in 2008. It seems to have no beginning, middle or end. Rather it is more like drifting down a remarkable river, never knowing what lies around the next bend.
Based on original interviews from people on both sides of the political cultural war in Colorado Springs in 2006 over marriage equality, “This Beautiful City” evokes a full range of emotions as you hear the words of the large evangelical movement and the LGBT community in Colorado Springs. Many scenes are difficult to hear, in the sense of the anti-LGBT rhetoric and the strong fight against marriage equality. Reactions, for some viewers, seemed to bring about “post evangelical trauma,” while others seemed to find the same words funny, understanding the pure absurdity of evangelicals’ beliefs. Regardless of the impact on the audience, The Civilians (a New York-based center for investigative theater) created a work of art — in song, prose and dialogue — and Diversionary Theatre delivered its message with precision.
Covering a wide range of differences in the Colorado Springs evangelical and secular world, the rise and fall of the city’s New Life Church Pastor Ted Haggard, and the impact that the war between evangelicals and seculars had on the people caught in its midst, “This Beautiful City” is an engaging artistic endeavor. (Haggard resigned after confessing of allegations of sex and drug abuse with a young male in 2006.)
Never knowing where the production was going next, the play was full of blunt surprises, inspiring lyrics and testimonials, and constantly left the audience guessing. This clash of comedy, drama and musicality propelled the storyline in a very unconventional way yet kept the integrity of The Civilians’ original interview transcripts intact, and fully exposed the multiplicity of differences in the beliefs of people who lived through this experience. The direction and execution of every line in this show left an indelible mark that stays with viewers long after the performance is over. It is also a striking reminder of the influence that evangelicals still hold in the political arena, even in the midst of scandal.
With music and composition by the late Michael Friedman, the intertwining of the interviews into sung and spoken word is the thread that holds this wild ride of extremities together. Songs with no names become sonnets of spoken words by the people that lived through this part of American history.
With six actors all playing multiple roles, it was impressive that the revolving door of characters did not distract from the musical at any time. Additionally, four out of the six made an extraordinary debut at Diversionary for this play.
Theo Allyn’s performances — which run from a Pentecostal worshiper to a recovering abused drug addict and a transgender who refused to allow evangelicals to expel her out of her own city — were seductively gorgeous and heart-wrenching. The emotions conveyed through spoken word and song left the audience silent or in tears. Simply superb in delivery and believable in perspective, her performances lifted the veils of any uncertainty in the construction of this play.
Part of the band and the cast, Diversionary veteran Michael Louis Cusimano blends all of his talents into some of the most difficult transitions from character to character without missing a beat. A brilliant performer in every aspect, he adds an originality to the several people he portrays, and his acting is only rivaled in his ability as a musician.
Jasmine January, portraying a preacher that came out of the closet and the evangelical whistleblower who aided in exposing this preacher, strides through the two roles of striking drama to comedy without a flinch.
The man who does it all, Tony Houck (also the music director), is a wizard of song, theater and music. His ability to bring out the best of himself in a performance is as evident in those that work with him. From the music to his acting, he brought many touching moments throughout the production.
Kim Heil and Victor Chan stand out with their vocals, both astounding story-tellers. And their roles and actions within the play carry some pivotal moments. They are integral in their roles, Chan’s powerful vocals and Heil’s gorgeous tone fill the room with talent, but most of all, with a presence.
In reading Artistic Director Matt Morrow’s reasoning on why he chose this play to direct, it is obvious the current attacks against the entire LGBT community played a role in his decision. But with this play being so complex, I’m astounded at his dedication to the LGBT community in getting important and vital material out there for all to see. “This Beautiful City” is incredible in its depth of portraying both sides of the story equally and doing more than justice to the hours of interviews and personal stories collected by The Civilians that first put this amazing piece of art on stage in 2008.
It will make you laugh, cringe, cry and get angry, but it also enlightens an important part of history — the real struggle between groups of people holding opposite beliefs — and is a phenomenal tool for opening dialogue on conversations too long overlooked.
Just extended, “This Beautiful City” is running through Dec. 16.
For show times, tickets and more information, visit diversionary.org.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.