Triple threat Nick Cearley dazzles as quadruple threat “Randall Klausner” in the thoroughly marvelous …And Then I Wrote A Song About It, directed to perfection by Igor Goldin at San Diego’s Diversionary Theatre.

Not at all your typical “one man show,” …And Then I Wrote A Song About It is in actuality a full-fledged one-act book musical that just happens to have a single performer playing not only its protagonist but assorted characters in his orbit, making for a funny, tuneful, emotion-packed, nostalgic look back at the last days of disco during the early years of the 1980s.

We first meet NBC employee Randall on New Year’s Eve 1981 as he waits in the wings to make his network TV debut on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Coast To Coast, an appearance made possible by a last-minute opening in the annual showcase of talent contest winners.

Soon, however, we’ve flashed back two years for some “Getting To Know You Time” with would-be singer-dancer-actor-songwriter Randall. Though about to turn 30, the pixyish “quadruple threat” still lives at home with his German-born parents, his old-school father a Holocaust survivor turned sausage import company mogul who wants nothing more (or less) from his son than for him to marry the right girl and take over the family business.

Randall, not surprisingly, has other life goals in mind: To be a Broadway star. To find a boyfriend. To earn his father’s respect.

Goal Number One he pursues by taking classes in singing, dancing and acting, and if his boy-next-door qualities make his dance efforts a bit “bland at first,” hard work is helping him get “sleazier by the minute.”

As a quadruple threat, Randall spends a good deal of his time writing songs, and though he’s already accumulated a stack of rejection letters this high, our spunky hero keeps plugging away with lyrics like “Special love. Forbidden fruit. Two people in a leisure suit,” which reflect his efforts at …

Goal Number Two. Unfortunately, Randall’s one-night stands seem never to materialize into second-night dates (or even a shared breakfast the morning after).

As for Goal Number Three, well that one may well be the toughest of all since it means not only persuading Papa to approve of his career goals but also getting him to accept that his son is a “qveer” and that the young woman “from a good meat family” his father dreams of as a daughter-in-law may turn out to be simply a young man with good meat.

Day-job-wise, things begin to look up for Randall when he’s hired to work at 30 Rockefeller Center as administrative assistant to an NBC bigwig, work which, if it doesn’t help Randall get that Broadway (or off-Broadway, or off-off-Broadway) gig, does at least put him in the running for the Tom Snyder talent search.

As we follow Randall’s dreams of stardom, we meet the folks who surround him. There’s Chemical Bank loan officer Lydia Alvarez, sufficiently impressed by Randall’s self-proclaimed advanced dance skills that she actually approves his loan, Randall having failed to specify that his actual level is “advanced beginner.” Other members of Randall’s “entourage” include his retired Marine General boss, his long-suffering therapist, and his pot-smoking best friend Barry, whose losing battle with AIDS not only reflects the grim reality of early ‘80s gay life in New York but also provides …And Then I Wrote A Song About It with some of its most poignant moments.

Presumably at least semi-autobiographical, Eric H. Weinberger’s book makes for a nostalgic look-back for boomers and an informative “history lesson” for those who came of age post-Disco and protease inhibitors. In addition to its witty quips (“This is the kind of therapist I need … one with bar recommendations”), Weinberger’s book demonstrates the writer’s understanding of just how complex the parent-child relationship can be. (After a particularly acrimonious exchange of words between tradition-bound father and out-and-proud gay son, Dad responds with a “How dare you stomp out! This is your home and you always have a place here.”)

Composer Daniel S. Aquito has written one catchy disco-era melody after another to accompany Randall’s journey. “It Makes Me Sing” is a particular winner, especially with Sammy Buck’s clever, touching lyrics attached: “If I’m happy or I’m sad, if god forbid, I trip and fall and end up in a sling. Oh, it makes me sing.” (“In a sling”?)

None of this would work half as well without Cearley’s captivating performance as Randall. Southland musical theater enthusiasts may recall the actor’s delightful turn as Dean in the First National Tour of All Shook Up (which played in both Orange County and San Diego). …And Then I Wrote A Song About It gives the young regional theater vet the kind of star-making role he richly deserves. Whether singing pitch-perfectly or shaking his groove-thing to Antoinette DiPietropolo’s snappy period moves or engaging one-on-one with his audience, Cearley is a lithe-and-lean bundle of energy and charm—whether fully clad or jockey shorts-only.

Sharing equal credit for …And Then I Wrote A Song About It’s success are the imaginative, incisive directorial contributions of Goldin, the production representing the New York-based director’s third terrific Diversionary show—following 2008’s Yank! and 2009’s The New Century. (Goldin has also recreated DiPietropolo’s choreography for this West Coast Premiere, and co-designed the show’s nifty New York-y set with Bret Young.)

Providing expert musical accompaniment on piano and keyboards is conductor Thomas Hodges, with Bradley Sattler on drums. Michelle Caron’s lighting design, Hunter Kaczorowski’s costumes, and David Medina’s properties are all topnotch. Ryan Ford is stage manager

…And Then I Wrote A Song About It, proves well worth a day-trip to San Diego. While its New York-based talent differs from Diversionary Theatre’s usual sensational local talent-pool, the creative team’s decision to West Coast Premiere their “baby” at Diversionary reflects their confidence in the country’s third oldest continuously producing LGBT theater company. Once again, a Diversionary Theatre production makes for a terrific road trip down south.

Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego.
–Steven Stanley
March 26, 2011
Photos: Steven Lawler

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