A lot of people complain about gays and lesbians not having the right to marry in a legally recognized way with all the rights that go along with it. Patrick Mellen has decided to do something productive. He’s a singer and actor, so he’s used those talents to put together a show that makes its case entertainingly and persuasively and is donating the income to further the fight. And like the rest of the altar-eyed, he also does some complaining, explaining, ranting, and railing. Pulling together a diverse group of songs about wedlock, he sings them from a decidedly gay point of view as a proudly out performer. I caught his first of two scheduled performances on June 4th; the second is on Gay Pride Sunday, June 25th at The Triad, 158 West 72nd Street, at 9:15 pm. The money raised from his shows goes to the work being done by the organization Marriage Equality New York. His obvious determination to see same-sex marriage legalized makes me think he’ll continue being a soldier in the battle through his show beyond that. Patrick’s fervor comes through in his musical performance, which has entertainment value on its own when divorced (pardon the expression) from the message.
The Ohio native, who made his Broadway debut this year as part of the company of the already-closed vampire-friendly Lestat, has a growing theater resume. Active as a key member of Raw Impressions Theater, he’s popped up in various productions and workshops. Among them was one with a subject matter similar to the topic at hand: My Gay Best Friend, a musical by Jenny Giering (music) and David Javerbaum (lyrics), two especially talented writers. In that musical and in some of the songs presented here, Patrick had the opportunity to portray a man pleased to be a man who is happily in a committed relationship. He tells the audience that in real life, he’s single. Besides getting the right to wed, he also has finding a partner on his to-do list. "What I want is the freedom to shackle myself to someone else," he says somewhat wryly, showing he knows it could be a bonding experience - the way super-strong epoxy Krazy Glue is.
Surprisingly, in contrast to his intensity in rhetoric during his spoken sections, some of the singing is lacking in drama and could use more varied colors and personalization. Several of the pop song choices don’t give this trained theatrical singer as much to work with, perhaps. Stephen Sondheim’s usually anguished plea for a commitment that can still allow freedom, Marry Me A Little, has little of its accustomed tension. With a pro-marriage stance, Patrick’s version is kind of casual, emphasizing only the positive side, which robs the number of its intrinsic struggle. Two Nina Simone trademarks work better: Be My Husband comes off with more fire and a nobility, and Mississippi Goddamn (originally written about the racial struggle in the 1960s) with additional lyrics is strong. In welcome contrast, I Wanna Get Married is suitably playful. The item that gives Ringfinger its title comes courtesy of Nine Inch Nails. Patrick also gets to a song from the famous team who gave who gave him his temp job in Lestat, when he does a rousing job on Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.
His best moment comes with The Dresden Dolls oddity, Coin-Operated Boy. Strange as it may seem, it’s with this selection that he is most touching and theatrical. Here, he evidences the kind of full involvement and nuance performance that is lacking elsewhere. I wanted him to more fully inhabit other songs as he so satisfyingly does here. In his desire to present a point of view about gay rights and gay marriage, he sometimes presents the songs as Exhibit A and Exhibit B instead of acting them, which he can clearly do. Along the way, he has able and charming musical support from pianist Douglas Maxwell and two female singers, cutely billed as The Bridesmaids: Lucy Sorenson and Leannis Maxwell.
Citing activist Larry Kramer as an inspiration and not shying away from vilifying the road blocking President Bush (saying his proposed Constitutional amendment would be "putting discrimination into law"), Patrick can be a compelling speaker. In a cabaret theater setting, however, he may be preaching mostly to the converted as far as being pro gay marriage. The more effective parts of his address are specifically about galvanizing others to become active in working for change and becoming visible and communicative. His soapbox is a needed one, but some of the speech could use some pruning for more impact. A personal story about his singing a gay song at a Jesuit school is also overlong. Despite my quibbles, I’d encourage attendance at Ringfinger to support the fight and toast to the success of the movement (with a two-drink minimum). It’s not an easy battle, but we’re lucky to have Patrick Mellen as an enlisted, dedicated spokesman.
Sunday, June 25 at 9:15 pm. Singer Patrick Mellen stars at The Triad, 158 West 72 St, Manhattan. Fundraiser for Marriage Equality New York. Call 212-479-7995. $10 + 2 drinks.