The Steps Before Marriage

For any couple—gay or straight—the road to marriage can be filled with potholes, breakdowns and driving down one-way streets in the wrong direction. David Auxier-Loyola’s semi-autobiographical The EnGaygement, follows the evolution of his relationship with Carlos (Seph Stanek) from dating to getting engaged in New York City. The EnGaygement was originally written to be a musical and is still being further developed. Its current version is being directed by Duncan Pflaster and performed as a cabaret show at the Metropolitan Room.

The production opens with the group song, “Just Another Night,” and David singing about spending another evening at a gay bar and longing for a soulmate. Carlos sings about looking for sex at a gay leather bar called the Eagle. David appears awkward, lonely and indecisive, and Carlos is determined and focused. After the group song, David cannot decide if he should call his diary a journal because “journal” sounds more masculine for a 35‐year‐old man. Instead of reading from his diary-journal entries, David suddenly performs the song, “Like a Perfect Song.” David sings about finding true love after having his heart broken and then being alone again in the end. There are 17 songs in this show with 12 A. being a reprise of “Like a Perfect Song.” Musical director and arranger, Mark York, plays the piano beautifully throughout this performance.

In scene two, Carlos starts by saying, “Once upon a time” and then distinguishes that he is not telling a fairy tale but a "manly tale" about a princely, handsome man. Carlos then sings about his many failed relationships and how he is content with dating himself in the song, “Single and Lovin’ It.” Next, David has dinner at the apartment of his friend Colleen (Colleen Harris) and her “southern, liberal, bisexual, agnostic, PC‐hating, musical theater lovin' son of a bitch” husband, Jason (Jason Whitfield). Lastly, cast members Chris-Ian (Chris-Ian Sanchez) and Elliott (Elliott Mattox) provide comic relief.

The value of this production is its characterization of gay culture and its ability to have the characters’ personalities relate with theatergoers. The cast brings high energy and makes the text come alive. Within this space, Sanchez’s remarkable singing and acting talents stand out brilliantly.  Sanchez’s facial expressions and his ability to naturally dive into his character makes this show worth watching. On the other hand, the characters and their challenges seem outdated—like they are all still stuck in the '90s. It is unclear if this production is supposed to take place during the 1990s in New York City. The legalization of same-sex marriage or the popular use of dating apps are not present in David and Carlos’ world.

The ensemble also does not effectively represent the ethnically diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in New York City. In doing so, The EnGaygement feels more like it takes place in New Jersey or Long Island. A more conceivable representation of New York City’s LGBT community would be the addition of a transgender character. Colleen and Jason seem more like good friends, siblings or cousins than a married couple in love. Likewise, one of the weaker scenes is when Carlos divulges that a rock hit his neck and he was a victim of gay bashing on Gay Street and Christopher Street.

The larger challenge with the current evolution of this production is its inability to powerfully stand for something extraordinary. Much of the material in this production revolves around superficial antics and heartache that is shared between two grown men who are supposedly in love with each other. It is like spending an evening watching two gay men break up, get back together, break up again, and then sing about why they cannot find love. Some of the cast members also appear to be reading their lines from the script and it gives the impression that the production is more of a public reading. At times, The EnGaygement feels more like a vanity project than a potentially new, bold musical. This limits the production’s ability to travel outside of the New York City market and reach future audiences who are seeking this material. More dialogue between the songs can further develop the plot and characters. Most importantly, Auxier-Loyola can make a bold choice and commit to either having The EnGaygement live in New York City’s cabaret world or as an Off-Broadway musical. Right now, The EnGaygement lives somewhere as a work in progress—like a house that is starting to lose its original floor plan because it is always in a state of renovation.

The EnGaygement is recommended for theatergoers who enjoy listening to live singing while having a drink at a plush venue. It is not recommended for those seeking an accomplished musical or an innovative cabaret show that will leave them transformed. There is no doubt that this production has vast potential and a very talented cast, but its holes are showing because its overall aim and direction fall short.

The EnGaygement runs until June 22 at the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22 St. between 5th Ave. and Ave. of the Americas) in Manhattan. Evening performances are April 21, May 24 and June 22 at 7 p.m. with no matinee performances. Tickets range from $20-$115 (plus a two-drink minimum). To purchase tickets, call 212-206-0440 or visit metropolitanroom.com.

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