By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
It was a dark, damp Friday night when I sauntered into the sleepy CoHo Theater off NW Raleigh, and I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I knew what Homomentum had been, I knew Max Voltage and her team had been hard at work preparing a full-blown musical. I also knew their opening weekend was more staged reading than production, an opportunity to see all the good work the sweet RACC grant had done. I didn’t expect to fall in love that night.
As I took my seat in the intimate CoHo digs, I cozied up next to Mary Blair, the very sweet CoHo board president. She introduced herself, seemed intrigued by PQ, and proceeded to grill me (in the most pleasant way possible). The house was packed, you see–as it would be through the weekend, each show sold out–and Mary wanted to know a great many things. “Is there a need for this sort of thing?” she asked. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. (Though I just said, “yes.”) In an “integrated” city where we’re seeing more and more queer-only spaces vanish (while we find and make new ones), it’s nice to sit back, relax, and soak in the gay with an auditorium filled with family.
Homomentum (directed by Kim Lundin) is admittedly a work in progress. It’s a radical genderbending sci-fi fantasy musical. Homomentum was first a queer cabaret series, featuring drag, burlesque, live music, and performance art, which ran for three years, and ended late last year. The aesthetics and politics and commentary are nothing short of radical, but their presentation keep the subject matter from getting too preachy. And each of those elements remain at the forefront throughout the musical.
The show opens in Metopia, a city in the stars where all things capitalist and consumption are king. We meet Eli–an enchanting Lauren Mitchell–who’s set to take her proper place in the hierarchy of Metopia’s ruling class. Work and wealth aren’t evenly shared (sound familiar?), and those who work below, the Cogs, shoulder the brunt of the burden in terms of labor. They work, others rule, and the whole thing’s on the brink of class warfare.
Then, thank god, the Homomentum players–a band of intergalactic performers–crash land on the planet and foul up the whole system. Their way is all glitter and camp, and Eli is intrigued. These three queens–Leigh Richards as Sam, Anthony Hudson as Captain Magic, and Miranda Bradley as Pixel–are utterly divine. (The big-voiced Richards is a revelation, Hudson a scene-stealer, and Bradley remains the perfect balance in the winning formula.)
So the plot unfolds. Will the love of a homo be enough to change Eli’s heart and mind? Will her people change? Can the Cogs rise up? Can art really change the world? (Spoiler alert: yes. It’d be a pretty depressing musical if it didn’t.) Will Eli and Sam end up together? (Listen to “It Ain’t Nothin’.”) I sure hoped so.
The great thing about Homomentum isn’t only its welcome social commentary (“buy your disposable car now!”), it’s the high moments when the show wades into serious relationship waters. Eli’s fledgling romance with Sam, Sam’s believable, infinitely relate-able tryst with Sprocket (a superb Caley Murray), Captain Magic’s uncontrollable lust–the list goes on. Homomentum doesn’t shy away from love–from exploring it, dissecting it, looking at it from the inside out, and the results are enough to warm even the coldest heart (mine). This is a cast that’s clearly been together for a bit–so there’s chemistry in spades, and you find yourself rooting for just about everyone you watch. (The love stories also lead to one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in a musical–“Love is Cheesy,” a love song comprised wholly out of sappy love song titles and lyrics. So good.)
And right when you think you might get lost in the love, Homomentum veers back into serious-plot territory, tackling gender, sexuality, feminism, consumerism (pretty much any “ism” you can imagine) and the story moves on–but it rarely drags. The script is witty and sassy, always thoughtful, and it doesn’t shy away from mocking, well, everything. Take Captain Magic’s “Narcisexual”: “Narcisexual/dopplebanging homosexual/You look a lot like me (what luck!)/Remind me of me (let’s fuck!)”
Or Eli’s makeover moment in “Self Made Man”: “Man up Man up/time to drag up/turn your femme in/let your fag out.” The songs have been bouncing around my head for days, so much so I emailed Max Voltage and demanded YouTube videos. (Thank god the Voltage is so organized.)
The overachieving cast turned a “staged reading” into a big, loud, wildly entertaining queer extravaganza. There were rough patches, sure, but the cast worked right through the occasional forgotten line or missed cue. (There weren’t many.) Their charm and charisma and chemistry covered up any mistakes. If I were forced to search my soul for criticism, I might contend the second half is a little slower than the first. Then again, how do you top the grand introductions of characters like Captain Magic and that hysterical boy band?
And I need to talk to you for a moment about the goddess Danie Ward. The de facto leader of the “underground,” Axium (played by Ward), provided one of the best moments of the whole night when she sang (and by “sang” I mean “channeled the divine”) the jazzy “old Earth number,” “Wholesome on Folsom.” (Can I live in Homomentum’s underworld?) “When you’re wholesome on Folsom/there’s some things you should know/wholesome on Folsom/places to go/dirty and flirty/naughty and nice/gender and bendy/make you think twice.” (My favorite song, shhh.) Other highlights: the boy band (like I said, brilliant), Eli (a lovable lead), and Wisteria Loeffler, the robot that represents all that oppression.
In short, Homomentum is campy, smart, witty as hell, and, most of all, great. The songs are catchy, the cast is strong. The show makes you feel, think, laugh, think some more, and laugh again. It felt like “Rent” and “Moulin Rouge” had a queer, gender-less baby. Even in that tiny theater during that (produced) staged reading, I kept imagining it on a big stage, produced to the hilt. Then I imagined how this cast and crew would probably defy each of my expectations, just like they did Friday night.