Co-produced with Adam Kenwright, Taboo began previews Oct. 28. With a score by Boy George and a new book by Charles Busch, the musical concerns the lives of two larger-than-life personalities involved in the eighties London club scene: the Kent-born singer Boy George, who rose to fame and international acclaim via the pop group Culture Club; and performance artist Leigh Bowery, who became known for his outlandish costumes and make-up before an early death from AIDS. Their stories are told against the background of the London club Taboo, which featured an array of self-proclaimed "freaks."
Euan Morton, who received an Olivier Award nomination for his portrayal of Boy George in the London production of Taboo, repeats his role on Broadway, and George O'Dowd (aka Boy George) portrays the late Leigh Bowery. Raúl Esparza and Liz McCartney serve as the musical's narrators, playing, respectively Philip Salon and Big Sue.
The cast also includes Sarah Uriarte Berry as Nicola, who falls for and eventually marries Leigh Bowery; Cary Shields as Marcus, the sexually confused photographer who enters Boy George's life; and Jeffrey Carlson as Marilyn, the drugged-out drag artist with an attitude. Donnie R. Keshawarz is the standby for the characters Philip Sallon and Leigh Bowery.
The company comprises Jennifer Cody, Dioni Michelle Collins, Brooke Elliott, Lisa Gajda, Bob Gaynor, Curtis Holbrook, Lori Holmes, Jennifer Mrozik, Nathan Peck, Alexander Quiroga, Asa Somers, Denise Summerford, Jody Reynard, James Tabeek and Gregory Treco.
Christopher Renshaw directs Taboo, which began life at London’s Venue in January 2002. That production played its final performance there April 26. Mark Dendy choreographs the Broadway mounting, with Big River director Jeff Calhoun serving as choreographic consultant. Calhoun was brought in after the show began rehearsals. The remainder of the creative team includes John McDaniel (musical supervision), Tim Goodchild (scenic design), Mike Nicholls and Bobby Pearce (costume design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Jonathan Deans (sound design) and make-up and hair design (Christine Bateman). Charles Busch, the acclaimed playwright-performer who scored a success with the Tony-nominated The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, has rewritten the book for the Broadway production based on Mark Davies' original script. In a recent interview for Playbill On-Line, Busch explained, "It really is a brand-new book. In London the protagonist was a fictional character named Billy, and Boy George, the character, was sort of a supporting character, and I thought [that] the one I'm interested in is Boy George, and I'd like to see his story front and center. So that's the really big change I did. I cut Billy and Billy's mother."
Boy George said that the revised version brings out more of an "emotional aspect of the characters. There were a lot more characters in the London show, and I think what Rosie decided to do, which I think was a very sensible move, was to hone in on key characters and bring out their emotional elements, rather than just have surface characters that looked great but didn't have much mind, body and soul. So, I think in that respect, it's a better show. I'm playing Leigh, and it's much more enjoyable for me to play Leigh in New York because Leigh's a real person now. He's a person with a life outside of clubbing. He has a wife, he has domestic problems. He goes up and down, so it's really fun for me to play it."
Song titles include "Freak/Ode to Attention Seekers," "Stranger in This World," "Safe in the City," "Dress to Kill," Genocide Peroxide," "I'll Have You All," "Sexual Confusion," "Pretty Lies," "Guttersnipe," "Love Is a Question Mark," "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," "Touched By the Hand of Cool," "Everything Taboo," "Talk Amongst Yourselves," "The Fame Game," "I See Through You," "Ich Bin Kunst," "Petrified," "Out of Fashion," "Il Adore" and "Come On in From the Outside."
Producer O'Donnell summed up the message of the musical, which she encountered in London and decided to bring to New York. "You have to be taught to hate and fear," O'Donnell said, "and this show is about accepting others and yourself and how we're all the same. I think every great musical sort of has that message. That's what the show is, and it is, innately, a love story."
A high-profile Manhattan trial involving O'Donnell and the company that formerly ran her eponymous, now defunct magazine, "Rosie," coincided with the late preview period of Taboo.
The Plymouth Theatre box office is located in Manhattan at 236 West 45th Street. Tickets, priced between $80 and $100, are available through Telecharge, (212) 239-6200. For more information about the musical, visit www.tabooonbroadway.com.