You don’t often see a musical comedy in which a transgender man and the woman he fancies sing about their mutual attraction — and agree the man shouldn’t have a sex-change operation.
That may be a first in “Stu for Silverton,”
the genially groundbreaking, appealing new show introduced by Intiman Theatre in its current summer festival.
You might expect campy razzle-dazzle in a show inspired by the transformation of the real Stu Rasmussen from a shy, small-town Oregon man into a transvestite mayor dolled up in miniskirts, high heels and tops revealing his greatly enhanced cleavage.
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In director Andrew Russell’s vivaciously clever staging, “Stu for Silverton” has more in common with “Our Town” and “The Music Man” than with “La Cage Aux Folles.” It’s a fond tribute to small-town Americana at its best, and to the kind of tolerance ordinary citizens can rise to.
In fact, “Stu for Silverton,” sexual frankness and all, is downright wholesome. And a warmly humorous book by Peter Duchan, and surprisingly mainstream Broadway-style score by New York cabaret artist Breedlove, make it quite accessible to viewers of all gender persuasions.
With droll narration by a twinkly, bow-tied gent, akin to the Stage Manager in “Our Town” (played by a folksy Charles Leggett), it opens with a tongue-in-cheek anthem, “God Loves Silverton.” As smiley adults and kids scamper about, this Oregon hamlet is framed as a perfectly square, content and neighborly oasis. It’s a play on a hackneyed stereotype, but it’s easy irony and the one number that could use a major trim.
As depicted here, good-natured Stu (endearing Mark Anders) is a Silverton native and movie-house owner who is a pushover when a friend needs a car fixed or a lift to Portland.
But he’s also lonely and out of touch with his true nature until a movie featuring a flaming transvestite blows his mind, in a wonderful “Rocky Horror Picture Show” number. Befriended by an encouraging (and very funny) transgender Portland support group, Stu gingerly begins to cruise women’s lingerie stores and dab on cosmetics.
Still, he remains attracted to the opposite sex. And in a hilarious first-date scene and risqué duet (“I Like What’s Going on Down There”) he meets his match in the sharp-witted, lusty Victoria, played by that scene-stealing force of nature, Bobbi Kotula.
But a guy stepping out in women’s duds is no breeze in provincial Silverton. Friends are curious, wary, disgusted by Stu’s new look, and begin to view the town native as an outsider (“What’s Stu Up to Now?”).
Then Stu comes out even further. He opposes a plan to turn Silverton’s quaint downtown into a strip mall, and runs for mayor — and wins.
Though many characters and details are invented, Duchan’s book follows the general outlines of the real Rasmussen’s life. The show ends with what got him on the national news: When Silverton residents heard that the Westboro Baptist Church was planning a vicious, homophobic picketing of their town and new mayor, citizens got behind Stu, big-time.
In the musical, fanatical protesters march through the audience, expressing their venomous bigotry in song and signage. And when the townspeople drive them out of town with a countermarch, it’s very moving.
“Stu for Silverton” has charming, low-key choreography by Mark Haim, simple, effective scenery by Jennifer Zeyl and apropos costuming by Melanie Taylor Burgess. While the acting is on the nose, the singing can be spotty.
Intiman has labeled this a work-in-progress, and requested no press critiques. But The Seattle Times decided to review “Stu for Silverton” because it is fully staged, it had previews and is now in a lengthy run, and charges regular ticket prices.
There’s some work to be done here: Stu is almost too good to be true, and a less saintly protagonist might give the show a little edge. That opening number could use a revamp. And arguably, with its eager promotion of small-town values, “Stu for Silverton” can seem almost too sweet, like a triple-dip cone from an old-timey ice-cream parlor.
But such treats can be very refreshing in midsummer. And how pleasant, for a change, to see a tale of collective tolerance that happens to be true.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org