By Eric Karas
Grindr the Opera is Pride Films and Plays’ new musical about the popular hookup app and it’s ramifications—good and bad—for gay men.
This show starts out exploring the different ways that people use the app. The song “Manhunt” (ironically the name of another gay hookup site) is about the hunt looking up men on the app. “Filling out a profile” is a relatable song about having to fill out a profile on an app or website and what to say or not to say.
In this presentation, Grindr is not merely a hookup app, but also embodied by an operatic siren, Bruno Rivera—at times commenting on the action and at other times influencing it—as when he/she convinces someone to come back to the app even though they are in a relationship. Rivera has an amazing falsetto, made even more poignant when he sings a whole show this way. He definitely brings the opera to this opera. However a little of this goes a long way, and this reviewer believes the songwriter and writer could have pared this back a tad. The back up signers, the Grindettes, Andrew Flynn and Brandon Krisko, have lots of fun moments to comment on the actions of the lead performers. Their silly, sexy dances provide some of the show’s best moments.
The story unfolds with people using the app for their various reasons. Devon (Justin Cavazos) is just out of a relationship and trying things out, while Tom (Ben Broughton) is the handsome hookup he falls in love with. On the other spectrum is Jack (Evan Wilhelm) who is just out unapologetically for sex. Since he sings a song called “Cum dumpster,” there is little left to the imagination. Don (John Cardone) is a closeted, married, right-wing Republican who uses the apps for sex and his fetishes. This has the ring of truth to it and not a cheap shot at an archetype.
As the story continues, things get more complicated for them all. Love, sex and relationships are hard with or without Grindr, but this is a commentary on the times we live in. Broughton is very charismatic as Tom, and Justin brings the vulnerability needed for Devon. Audiences have to admire Evan’s Jack for being totally out there. Cardone’s Don doesn’t seem pathetic, just misguided. It’s easy to see him posting a torso pic and luring in the younger men.
As a director, Cardone (doing double duty) keeps things moving and has some surprising and funny entrances, exits and bits for his actors. Shawn Quinlan’s choreography is charming and silly in the way storefront theater choreography should always be. The costume design looked like someone maxed out their credit card at the drag store. Each outfit is thoroughly entertaining.
The cast sings well and does their energetic best. The fault here is Erik Ransom’s book, music and lyrics for relying too heavily on the Grindr siren, which gets old fast. While the plot is largely unnecessary, the show brings out there’s a lot of universality.
Pride Films and Plays presents “Grindr the Opera” (an unauthorized parody) through July 28 at The Buena Pride Arts Center, 4147 Broadway, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.