The Celebration Theatre scores big with Songs From An Unmade Bed, their best show yet this season and the first to present a fully (and beautifully) realized three-dimensional portrait of a contemporary gay man. Exquisitely performed by Broadway vet Dave Barrus, imaginatively staged by director-of-the-hour Patrick Pearson, and designed by one of the finest teams L.A. has to offer, Songs From An Unmade Bed is must-see theater, not just for its core audience, but for any lover of musical theater or song.


Truly unique and original is Unmade Bed’s concept: 18 songs, 18 composers, 1 lyricist, 1 performer, 3 musicians … in a song cycle about one man’s romantic life.
Lyricist Mark Campbell drew both from his own experience and from his imagination in creating the show’s 18 “life snapshots.” Some are about the men his fictionalized gay Everyman has bedded, others are simply about seasons, times, feelings. Since each song is the work of a different composer, each one has its own style, sound, and mood. The final result is breathtaking.
We meet our hero/protagonist/star “all alone, here in my bed” as he sings, “I could die here tonight, die unknown, here in my bed…” But this momentary negativity is soon replaced by “An Admission.” “I recall my disappointment on first seeing you nude,” though “today I watch you sleeping … and I can’t imagine trading that body for anybody—nearly any other body—in the world.” Heady stuff indeed!
There is abundant humor in Campbell’s lyrics. “Spring” curses “the croci sprouting all around” because “it’s Spring and I’m not in love.” “The Man In The Starched White Suit” has a closet “so impressive it must not be easy to leave.” In “The Other Other Woman,” our hero learns that his lover has his pick of his “boyfriend, me, or … Rick.” Later, he muses about “sex with an actor. What was I thinking?” There’s also the bedmate who plays the cello “in timbre, style and tone … most akin to an adenoidal drone.”
There is nostalgia for what could have been in “Perfect, Finite”: “I think of you and wonder where you are today.  Where are you today?” Love turns bitter in “Funny Gesture,” which has our protagonist singing “it has been how many years and it is all I can do not to go for your throat.” And sometimes suspicion and jealousy can enter the picture, as when he realizes about his lover of six months that “He Never Did That Before.” How on earth did his bed partner learn that trick? “Did he get it from some film he rented, one set, say, in a prison cell?”
Every man (and Unmade Bed’s Everyman) needs recreational time, time to “go out tonight,” time to “do things that aren’t so bright” and “find some dive that’s dark and sleazy, meet somebody equally easy.” Or attend “A Dinner Party,” where “just an hour before, we ravaged each other on your kitchen floor.” Or travel to “Florence,” where “tonight—besotted with art (and two bottles of wine) … I don’t think I could love you more. I don’t think I could love anyone more.”
Then there are the introspective moments, as in “Oh, To Be Stupid Again”: “To be stupid and reckless and youthful and mindless and callow and shallow and stupid again. Again.” Or in “I Miss New York,” in which our leading player confesses, “I miss New York, the feeling worsens every year. I miss New York and I live here.” Or at a memorial for a departed friend, where “we laughed, we sobbed, we felt lucky, we felt robbed.”
Songs From An Unmade Bed concludes with a pair of particularly exquisite melodies and lyrics: “To sing, to just sing, … to love the same way, know that it’s never too late in the day to love.” And: “The night you decided to stay … we stayed in bed wondering where this would go. Then saw outside it had begun to snow. Gently, gently, almost imperceptibly to snow.”
Reading bits of Campbell’s lyrics in a review can only hint at the effect of hearing them set to the music of Debra Barsha, Mark Bennett, Peter Foley, Jenny Giering, Peter Golub, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, Stephen Hoffman, Giheih Lee, Steven Lutvak, Steve Marzullo, Brendan Milburn, Chris Miller, Greg Pliska, Duncan Sheik, Kim D. Sherman, Jeffrey Stock, and Joseph Thalken. Some melodies are simple and sweet, others complex and challenging. Each fits the mood of Campbell’s lyrics to perfection.
The Celebration Theatre could not have found a finer leading man than good fortune has brought them in Dave Barrus. Fresh from his stellar turn in Great Expectations, the Broadway/regional theater vet has the voice of an angel, the body of a David, and the acting chops to make each song far more than just words and music. Barrus has been blessed to work with Patrick Pearson, fresh from his triumph with A New Brain (probably the most impressive staging that show has ever received). Pearson never lets Unmade Bed become just a set of songs. Despite having no book/dialog, this is real theater. Whether alone in bed, or center stage, or atop a box moving his body to a dance club beat, Barrus is telling a story in words, music, and movement. (Credit and kudos for the latter go to choreographer Robin Ray Eller, who has Barrus dancing a la Fred Astaire in one number complete with cane, and disco style in another.)
Sharing the stage with Barrus is musical director/pianist extraordinaire Jake Anthony (who performed the same duties in last season’s brilliant Splendora), joined by Stephen Green on cello and an offstage Dylan Campbell on percussion. Both Anthony and Green have their own wonderful center stage moments, the former playing the accordion in “Florence” and the latter on cello in the appropriately titled “He Plays The Cello.”
Kurt Boetcher’s 10th set design at the Celebration is one of his best, with the Empire State Building gracing its sky blue backdrop and the de rigueur double bed surrounded by a few dozen dress shirts and ties. Tim Swiss, another Celebration veteran, has designed a gorgeous lighting plan to enhance the effectiveness of each song. Mizzy Matches’ costumes comprise four sets of sleepwear, for Barrus, Anthony, and Green, and even one for Campbell, who appears briefly at curtain call.  (Barrus looks very fine indeed in his form fitting A-shirt.)
Songs From An Unmade Bed is not a “musical” per se, nor is it cabaret, though each of its songs would be ideal for either genre. On CD, it is a song cycle full of diverse styles and moods.  Performed live at the Celebration, it is a masterful hour-plus of great musical theater.

Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
June 12, 2008

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