A surprisingly charming look at the porn industry with a good-looking cast and some great songs.
By Joel Benjamin
No musical about the porn industry should be as sweet, charming or enticing as Pretty Filthy now at the Abrons Arts Center in the heart of the Lower East Side. Michael Friedman (composer/lyricist) and Bess Wohl (book) have fashioned a delightfully fresh show about a world most of us perceive, at the very least, as unpleasant and unhealthy, even though most of us have partaken of its pleasures at one time or another. Certainly, Pretty Filthy doesn’t shy away from the nastier aspects of this world, but the point here is that the people who take part are, indeed, people, with all the problems people have: self-doubt, romantic disappointments, financial stress, etc.
The loose storyline centers on two porn performers, the older Georgina Congress (a luminous Luba Mason) and the newbie Becky who soon calls herself Taylor (charmingly portrayed by an eager Alyse Alan Louis). Through their experiences we see the industry from its height in the Eighties to its ubiquitous, but financially unrewarding, digital age manifestations, from film to video to pixels.
Georgina acts as a kind of den mother to the industry as she strides the stage talking about her experiences. At one point she even gathers the performers in what a song describes as a “Porn House” where they can flop, perform and communicate. Becky, tired of earning nothing at a local store, sings “What If I Like It,” wondering about getting into the porn business and being seduced by it. Her boyfriend, Bobby, follows her to L.A. and not only gets into the act—with Becky’s, now Taylor’s (her porn name) approval—but gets into gay-for-pay porn which he finds oddly pleasurable—“Bobby’s Song.” There are old school couples personified by Holly (a bubbly Maria-Christina Oliveras) and Oscar (Steve Rosen, who was sensational as a sleazy producer, a director and a cameraman). Holly and Oscar are porn royalty who survived decades riding all the niche waves of the business. There is something abhorrent, yet sympathetic about this pair as they sing “Applesauce.”
The songs cover different aspects of the business like the ins and outs of choosing a name (“Names”); diva performers (“Difficult Girls”); the problems men have keeping “it” up (“Waiting for Wood”); and even a rueful overview (“Beautiful”).
The cast also includes Lulu Fall as the sole Black performer whose name was appropriated by a white performer. She has a gleeful sass and attitude, not to mention looks. John Behlmann, Marrick Smith and Jared Zirilli, all handsome and buff, unabashedly portrayed most of the male characters from overly confident porn actors to gay porn agents to a funny character called the Pizza Guy.
The entire cast humanized these porn participants without descending into clichés or over-acting.
Pretty Filthy was directed by Steve Cosson who succeeded in drawing nuance from what might have been vulgar. The music director Nathan Dame led the small band with panache, making the most of Mr. Friedman’s songs. Neil Patel’s simple scenic design made each place clear without overloading the stage. Darrel Maloney’s witty projections also enhanced the proceedings.
*Photos: Richard Termine
Pretty Filthy – through March 1, 2015
Abrons Arts Center 466 Grand St., at Pitt St. New York, NY
Tickets: OvationTix 866-811-4111
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission