Strong and dramatic – the two words that continuously came to my mind as I watched Dorian’s Closet at Rep Stage last night. This production is the world premiere of the new musical based on the life of female impersonator Dorian Corey. Richard Mailman (book and lyrics) and Ryan Haase (composer) have created an amazing new show that is both a reflection on our past and a comment on our present. The production team and cast, lead by Director Joseph W. Ritsch, have created a moving piece that contrasted the color and flamboyance of the drag queen world with the harsh and unfortunate reality of these people’s lives.
Though Dorian is the focal point and star, Dorian’s Closet was very much an ensemble show. These eight men (James Thomas Frisby as Jesse Torres, Dwayne Washington as Pepper Labeija, Richard Westerkamp as Monica Mugler, Ian Anthony Coleman as Amazing Grace, Keith Richards as Detective Figueroa/Sal Maggio/Anthony Bennett, Tiziano D’Affuso as Angel Romano, and Jay Adriel as Robert Worley) all brought bold, complete characters to the stage and gave them life with excellent singing and killer dance moves. It should also be mentioned that every single man walking in heels did so flawlessly, with such ease that they should teach a workshop for women.
Stephen Scott Wormley (Dorian Corey), especially, carried himself with poise and grace. His voice was clear and confident in every song, and he brought real depth and feeling to Dorian, which had you falling in love with such an incredible person. A truly beautiful moment was Wormley’s first solo song, “I Shot An Arrow.” It was our first time alone with Dorian, and we got to see her be vulnerable and unsure briefly before she was, once again, resolute and strong.
Frisby delivered a wonderful performance as Jesse. As the show progressed and we learned more about her, I became more and more attached. She had so much heart and some real fire to her, which Frisby brought out honestly and naturally. Westerkamp’s Monica was quite a memorable performance, as well. He gave lots of energy to the brassy queen and added some much-needed levity to the show.
Rachel Dolan choreographed the killer dance moves displayed in the performance. Dolan’s steps were fun, captivating, and fabulous. She gave the men the perfect choreography to show off their high heels and sequins. The act two opener, “Shade”, was particularly great. I appreciated how Dolan worked in the iconic moves of the time and created exciting tableaus. “Pay The Tab” was also a lot of fun with the girls popping out of the windows in the doors. This great surprise was made possible by the scenic design of Daniel Ettinger. The set overall was colorful and enticing. The different settings were clearly conveyed by simple, but specific moving furniture like a bar and a table or a rack of clothes and a makeup station.
The lighting design, by Joseph Walls, perfectly complemented the drama of the story on stage. Bold spotlights and well-timed specials effectively conveyed the tone of the scene. Walls drew our eye in and made sure we focused. Sarah Cubbage’s costumes, though, threatened to outshine Walls’s lights. It was a constant thrill to see these characters walk out in new, flashy outfits. Cubbage’s choices for each character illustrated their unique personalities and while making every character look fabulous.
It is always exciting for me to see new works of theatre because, well, they’re new. There are no preconceived notions about a lead who played it better or another theatre who had a better set. Seeing Dorian’s Closet was a particular pleasure because it felt like seeing the future.
Dorian’s Closet is an important musical that could easily become a classic in decades to come. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: Two hours, including an intermission