The idea that any high school group of any kind or nature could win anything 17 times strikes me as creepy, stalky and possibly diabetic. Then again, not if you have an angle — which Andrew Grosso’s Perfect Harmony, previewing at the Acorn Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.), does.
The group in question is called the Acafellas, and the singers are 17-time national champions; there are also the guys’ classmates and, oh yes, a group of female singers, mega-perennial runners up called the Ladies in Red. Grosso’s idea is that through song and story, such critical high school issues as truth and love — and choreography — can be conveyed. In other words, Perfect Harmony is about the need to achieve — the elusiveness of achieving — perfect harmony. (The liberal use of 1980s pop songs do, of course, lend themselves to carrying the weight of narrative. If you don’t believe me, you have never actually listened to the lyrics of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”)
Sound familiar? Yes, yes, Grosso knows all about Glee (and the fact that the third episode of Glee was called Acafellas). Chances are he’s perfectly sick of hearing all about Glee, and I wish Lea Michele luck if she and Grosso ever end up at a party together.
Nah, nah, I’m such an exaggeratin’ fool — the truth is that Perfect Harmony‘s Off-Broadway run is actually something of a remount: the show was one of the breakout hits of the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival, then it enjoyed a wildly successful run Off-Broadway at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. (Actually, here’s a third factoid: the show just played for a a month at the Stoneham Theatre in Massachusetts.)
Why else is the Perfect Harmony story worth a measure of the telling? For one thing, Grosso serves as artistic director of a theater company called The Essentials, Perfect Harmony evolved out of improvisations with previous casts. To Grosso’s credit — and I mean this — the group of “collaborating writers” includes some New York theater names you’ll likely know: David Barlow, Jeffrey Binder, Drew Cortese, Meg DeFoe, Alec Duffy, Autumn Dornfield, Cameron Folmar, Santino Fontana, Jordan Gelber, Scott Janes, Nicole Lowrance, Vayu O’Donnell, Thomas Piper, Maria Elena Ramirez, Jeanine Seralles, Marina Squerciati, Noah Weisberg, Margo White, Blake Whyte and Marshall York.
(Readers of the CFR may additionally recall our 5 questions with Marielle Heller. Her play, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, was co-produced by The Essentials.)
The current Perfect Harmony cast includes: Dana Acheson, Faryl Amadeus, Clayton Apgar, Marie-France Arcilla, David Barlow, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Jarid Faubel, Kobi Libii, Kelly McCreary and Robbie Collier Sublett. Grosso directs.
Oh, did I neglect to mention that this incarnation of Perfect Harmony is being co-produced by none other than Michael Musto? I mean, that would be the reason he’s pictured up at the top of the post, yes? Yes. I mean, yes, it’s that Michael Musto, who’s been writing La Dolce Musto, his column for The Village Voice, for so long that Charlemagne was actually told by Pope Leo III that no, darling, a retraction wasn’t possible. Hey, I’m kidding. Sort of. The first time I saw Musto in person was at Boy Bar in 1986 or 1987. He wore a, God help me, something that looked like an iridescent caftan, very Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Don’t-Mess-With-Me Dreamcoat. Or maybe it was “Rainbow High” from Evita? Oh, memory.
Anyway, with the 17 lives of Perfect Harmony and with Musto’s addition to the marquee, I thought it might be fun to have them interview each other for our latest 5 Questions. They agreed! And I stand in their debt. (And seriously, I’m really glad for Michael that he’s putting himself out there.)
Perfect Harmony opens Oct. 27 at Acorn Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.); for more information and tickets, click here or use this contraption called a telephone and cautiously punch in 212-239-6200. Wait for the ringy-dingy, be nice to the agent — and please buy a ticket.
And now, 5 questions Andrew Grosso and Michael Musto have never been asked — and more:
These are Musto’s questions for Grosso:
1) Can you sing well enough to win a contest?
Hmm, what kind of contest? Sadly, it doesn’t matter — I’m not a real singer. I grew up surrounded by singers and I was always awed by (and envious of) their ability to open their mouths and have this raw sound full of emotion and story just pour out. And then I also thought it was funny that the best singers were sometimes the unlikeliest people (see Susan Boyle). So, I think part of this show is a love letter towards folks with that gift.
2) I know your show came before Glee, but does the popularity of Glee have anything to do with it coming back?
Well, the glib answer is that before Glee, people said they weren’t sure if Perfect Harmony was a musical or a comedy. And then after everyone said it was too much like Glee.
But the real answer is that there were always a few friends and supporters who really believed in the show. And they encouraged me not to give up on it — and I think Glee just gave them a shorthand reference that made it easier for them to convince other people to check it out.
3) Did the fact that you won’t have to pay any musicians factor into your wanting to do an a cappella musical?
Well, we couldn’t afford to pay anyone in the beginning – so no.
In all seriousness, musicians make perfect sense for TV — one reason it’s smart that Glee is about show choir, with a backup band. When you watch TV you want to hear orchestrations and accompaniments. And TV is so auto-tuned and produced that a cappella doesn’t really translate. But in a theater, you get to experience this amazingly unique thing about live, unaccompanied, tight harmony; suddenly you have 10 Broadway-caliber voices singing 10-part harmony, and if you’re sitting 15 feet in front of that sound, it just blows you away that it’s so precise and raw and live. Nowadays, we’ve heard so much canned music that hearing and seeing that kind of live sound in front of us sort of flips some visceral positive switch in our brains. It’s like we’re hard-wired to dig live music.
4) Will any of my favorite pop songs find their way into the show? “To Sir With Love”? “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves”? “Bad Romance”?
Can you get us the rights to “Bad Romance”? Seriously, can you? We’ve actually got a pretty ridiculously great trove of songs — I don’t want to give any spoilers but there’s some old-school classics, some Cyndi Lauper, some Jay Z, something from Tiffany’s mall tour.
But wait, are those really your three favorite songs? How did those just pop out of your head — those are three pretty epic tunes. What’s your light listening — “Love Themes from Dr. Zhivago”? “Exodus”? “Famous Blue Raincoat”?
5) Does anyone ever misunderstand and think you’re doing a show about Acapulco? (I know I did.)
So, uh, how far in the script did it take you to realize the miscommunication? I’m imagining you thinking, “Fine, this is interesting, but when are they going to get to Spring Break? And why are they wearing so much clothing?” Though, actually, I guess given how often JB sheds his shirt maybe it’s an understandable mistake…
These are Grosso’s questions for Musto:
1) How has the world of fashion, celebrity gossip and social commentary prepared you for your role of theater producing? Are we harder or easier to deal with?
The world of bratty, bulimic models and whiny reality stars has prepared me for just about everything! You are a complete doll compared to any of the narcissistic wretches I’ve had to deal with until now. And the fact that we’ve only met once has clearly made this an extra special breeze.
2) We decided not to go the star casting route — and I love our cast. But if we had, who’s the most ridiculous casting decision we could have made?
I think Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch as the Ladies in Red would have been fabulous, but maybe just a tiny bit…
No, wait, I have no reservations about this whatsoever. It’s the ultimate stunt casting and would be far preferable to any American Idol runner-ups you could dream of. Do it!