Beautiful Thing

February 22, 2012.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

What makes a musical? Over the past two seasons, Theater Latte Da has explored the outer edges where theater and drama merge, first with last season's Song of Extinction, and now with its production of Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing. Harvey's gay coming-of-age tale takes place amid the gritty confines of a south London housing project in the early 1990s. In the original script and subsequent film, the music of Cass Elliot and the Mamas and the Papas is featured. For the Latte Da production, the music becomes a true player, as the songs are sung live to underscore and expand the action onstage. It was a risky move, admits director Jeremy Cohen, but one that has brought out the work's intense emotions in fresh ways. For him, the play had long been on his bucket list. The production "is an experiment. We've taken a piece of gritty narrative, but married it to the element of the music. The music is another piece of the puzzle," says Cohen, who is also the producing artistic director at the Playwrights' Center. All of this doesn't distract from the central themes of the play, or lessen their impact. In fact, having a piece written from a past perspective may put the central issues of the play in sharper relief, Cohen says. The company, which includes Steven Lee JohnsonDavid DarrowJennifer BlagenDan Hopman, and Anna Sundberg, features a mix of young and veteran performers. Working with the distinct culture and dialect of the London projects has aided the actors. "It's like they've been on an Outward Bound program together," he says. The play is in preview on Thursday, and opens Friday.

Wednesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 24. Continues through March 18, 2012