I admit that I was skeptical about what I mistakenly thought was a musical about the Rev. Ted Haggard. Instead, This Beautiful City is a play with music based on interviews with Colorado Springs, ground zero of the Christian Right. (In addition to housing Haggard's New Life Church, it's also the home to Focus on the Family, all told about a dozen evangelical groups -- not to mention the U.S. Air Force Academy.) The Civilians, the theatrical troupe that created the play, produces "investigative, collaborative theater." Think of it as a The Laramie Project without a gay-bashing murder at its center -- though by the end of the play you're likely to find yourself feeling more sympathy for Ted Haggard and his followers than when you went in.
Understanding does not mean excusing or forgiving, and there's a great deal of anger, defiance and sadness from all sides. The actors are outstanding in multiple roles, but particular kudos to Emily Ackerman who plays a young Christian ex-drug addict with a gay father as well as a "T-girl Christian"; Marsha Stephanie Blake who portrays a homophobic choir member in a black Baptist church and the (male) gay minister of the church who finally comes out; and Stephen Plunkett for his understated portrayal of Ted Haggard's son.
Overall the show is surprising, enlightening, and remarkably deft in its handling of a tricky topic and definitely well worth seeing.
This Beautiful City, written by Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis and featuring music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, is now playing at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, New York, NY.
For tickets and information call 212.353.0303 or visit the website here.
-- BRUCE SHENITZ
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