BD Wong has made brilliant use of his months in quarantine, creating a 45 minute video (available through August 14), that is a witty and inventive entertainment fashioned from a 15-year-old solo show about a gay man in New York reviewing his life of loneliness, lust, loss and love.
Don’t misunderstand. “Songs From An Unmade Bed” was already a witty and inventive entertainment. Debuting at the New York Theatre Workshop for a brief run in 2005, it starred Mark Winther in pajamas delivering original songs written by lyricist Mark Campbell and 18 different composers (one per song.) Many of the composers have gone on to great success in musical theater, among them Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), Chris Miller (The Burnt Part Boys) and Steven Lutvak (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder).
But what Wong has done, working with his husband videographer Richert Schnorr, and enlisting some starry accomplices, suggests a new way of approaching adaptations for online theater.
Some of this involves incorporating a cast of characters in ways that never feel like your now-standard Zoom readings. This is most aggressive in “The Other Other Woman,” composed by Jake Heggie, in which Wong complains that his boyfriend is two-timing him twice. There are scenes in the song with, by my count, at least 16 other performers — sometimes separately, sometimes all at once, in Zoom format. Since this features such Broadway stars as Telly Leung and Jose Llana, many half-clad, I doubt anybody would object. But more spot-on, at least for me, is the casting of Maulik Pancholy as a self-absorbed actor (not to be redundant) in Steven Lutvak’s funny, bawdy “Exit Right.” Wong sings
Sex with an actor
What was I thinking?
I feel like such a fool
Sex with an actor
What was I drinking?
That made me break that rule
while we switch to Pancholy doing vocal warm-up exercises or checking his cell phone and screaming “I got it!”
But most of what stands out is the clever use of video to underscore what’s going on — including the manipulation of the video to create multiple Wongs….occasionally a chorus line of BD Wongs.
A hint of what’s to come is in the first song of the cycle, “Here in My Bed,” composed by Jenny Giering, in which Wong sings of his loneliness, in lyrics that are amusing in their self-pity:
All alone in my bed,
Alone in this most neglected of rooms…
And when my body is found
Cold and prone in my bed…they’ll look around at my drab life and instantly rule out foul play.
We see a bird’s eye view of him sprawled on his bed and, for the briefest of moments, his body is traced in chalk, the way police do for corpses.
There are many such mischievous visual touches, most of which enhance the songs. Admittedly, sometimes the visuals upstage the song. In “A Dinner Party” composed by Mark Bennett, about how uncomfortable the character is at a “high-flown” party, Wong is placed Zelig-like in a series of classic paintings. The effect is hilarious and worth the distraction.
But Wong and Schnorr are smart enough to keep the visuals simple in Stephen Hoffman’s “Our Separate Ways,” in which Wong has come back from a funeral; we see him dressed in a suit in a chair, looking at an old photograph of his friend. In Duncan Sheik’s “Oh To Be Stupid Again” (Oh to be stupid again/fall in love in that stupid way, and embody every silly cliche”), we see Wong in two identical frames side by side; some spare confetti blows by, offering a nostalgic tone without much distraction.
The most apt visual is the one accompanying Peter Golub’s “I Miss New York,” in which we see Wong as a series of isolated characters through a succession of windows in an apartment building, as Wong sings “I miss New York/Whatever happened to Times Square/I miss New York/ I still live there.” — which takes on a whole new resonance in this time of lockdown.