October 15, 2004




Dorian Gray sings in the Big Easy


With its brew of mandatory hedonism and Gothic decay, New Orleans is an inspired setting for an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray." We half expect the vampire Lestat to drop in at one of the all-night revels depicted in the new musical "Dorian," except that he would likely find the blood a little thin in these parts.


In its L.A. premiere at the newly refurbished NoHo Arts Center, James J. Mellon, Scott DeTurk and Duane Poole's tuner has a large, committed cast of variable talent straining heroically to convince us they're part of something grand, clambering around Craig Siebels' cluttered multilevel set, under Jeremy Pivnick's exquisite lighting, in Scott A. Lane's overstated costumes.


But like the portrait that ages while its subject retains eternal youth, this alternately turgid and bland show isn't quite ready for its close-up.


The chill heart of Wilde's novel is its ambivalent embrace of youthful male beauty as a not-so-Platonic ideal. And in its best moments, this adaptation's central unconsummated relationship--between the bitterly closeted painter Henry Lord (Kevin Bailey) and the gorgeous, pansexual foundling Dorian (Max von Essen)--is freighted with convincing strains of thwarted, self-hating homoerotic desire.


The N'awlins backdrop affords a negligible racial subtext but thankfully gives us the show's secret weapon, Armelia McQueen, as a waterfront madam. She delivers the evening's best song, the existential torcher "Without Tomorrow," with un-fakeably soulful bite.


The rest of Mellon's and DeTurk's score is unbearably light, with lyrics that are generic in the extreme. And though the show's labored exposition is graciously shared among the cast, the sum is a crowded canvas indeed.

Rob Kendt


"Dorian," NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 21. $25 to $35. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.