The Richmond Triangle Players' latest production, "Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly," is a gay musical, and that's "gay" in all possible senses of the word. The sexual innuendoes range from sly to overt in this mischievous bauble of a show. But at its heart, "Pigs" is just a happy-go-lucky good time constructed around the classic "underdog makes good" premise. Who would've thought that the best "old-fashioned" musical to play in town so far this year would feature men in high heels singing songs like "Shaft of Love?"
Of course, high heels are just the beginning in this show, which was conceived by one of Broadway's more notorious costume designers. Howard Crabtree, who died in 1996 just before "Pigs" opened in New York, was apparently as much of an architect as a costumer, constructing extravagant and ingenious outfits that defied expectations. Designer Thomas Hammond takes up the gauntlet in the RTP production, with fine results. The five-man cast is clad in an impressive array of costumes, from a two-man centaur suit to surrealistic 18th-century courtiers' clothes, to a wacky series of "conceptual" outfits in the grand finale. This is the only show I can think of where you can't wait until the next scene, not out of anticipation over what the actors will say or do, but over what they'll be wearing.
Director John Knapp's cast isn't just a bunch of singing clothes hangers, though. The show's headliner is the dashing Fernando Rivadeneira, who plays the character of Howard with na‹ve pluck and youthful vigor to spare. "Pigs" begins with Howard dreaming of putting on a musical, though his high-school guidance counselor says that hogs will sprout wings first. The sketches and songs that follow are campy classics infused with clever wordplay by lyricist Mark Waldrop. But Howard's dream totters on the edge of collapse as costumes malfunction and props disappear, until finally he realizes the answer to his tribulations in the aptly titled closing song, "Over the Top."
While Rivadeneira is the front man here, Steve Boschen swipes the show right out from under him with his hilarious turn as a perpetually pissed-off cast member. In the sketch, "Coming Attractions," he also offers a sublime take on a Midwestern musical-lover that manages to be both tribute and lampoon at the same time.
Though no one beats Rivadeneira's singing voice for strength and expressiveness, Kirk Morton nearly matches it, particularly in his series of twisted torch songs dedicated to America's most prominent conservatives. Shon M. Stacy, who doubles as the show's choreographer, shows a pleasant stage presence and a slender physique that serves him well as the somewhat dim centaur in the song "Not All Man." But both he and fellow cast member Tim Gilham seemed a half-beat off on opening night, and not quite up to the vocal demands of their solo numbers. Part of the problem may have been musical director Timothy Brewster's piano accompaniment, which at times seemed muted.
But all in all, director Knapp has fashioned a jaunty production full of good-natured fun. And in the scenes where "Pigs" really gets airborne, it'll make you squeal with
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