Playwright and producer Ronnie Larsen is best known for his racy, gay-themed sex romps: “Making Porn,” “Cocksucker: A Love Story,” “All-Male Peep Show,” and “Bathhouse the Musical.” Nearly all feature gratuitous frontal nudity and most regularly sell out extended runs to the mostly older, male gay audiences.
But lately, Larsen has surprised his fans and critics with more thoughtful productions. He collaborated with composer Dennis Manning two years ago on the touching country musical “Now & Then” that earned a Carbonell nomination and went on to successful productions in Chicago and London.
He picked up two more Carbonell nominations last fall for the funny one-woman show, “Grindr Mom,” about a Mormon mother who sets up an account on the hook-up app to better understand her gay son, and “An Intimate Evening with John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” a dark dive into the psyche of the serial killer on the eve of his execution.
This weekend, Larsen will debut his latest musical, “Come Out! Come Out!,” and it’s nothing like any of his previous works. Set during the Roaring ‘20s, it’s the story of four men who explore their homosexuality through dance. Yes, dance!
"I’ve substituted the nudity for tap dancing,” said Larsen with his signature throaty laugh, “and it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever done.”
According to Larsen, the tap dancing serves as a sort of metaphor for the physical encounters the four men fantasize about while cruising Central Park. The writer scoured vaudeville scores of the period to find the right songs and then built the story around the music.
“Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me” is no longer a popular hit, but the Con Conrad song captures the sentiments of Larsen’s characters, as does Eddie Cantor’s “Makin’ Whoopee.”
“The show is sort of revolutionary, even though it’s a musical comedy set in the ‘20s,” he said. “It feels very new, even if [the cast] is wearing top hats.”
Larsen tapped Australian choreographer Kurt Phelan to create the dance numbers and musical director Bobby Peaco, a recent transplant to South Florida from New York, is working with the cast and accompanying performances on the piano. Michael Mills is co-directing the production with Larsen.
The New York City-based cast — Greyson Wade, Zachary Swartout, Chris Carranza and Dom Giovanni — were selected for their dancing skills first and Larsen promises audiences in the intimate Foundry at Wilton Theater Factory will experience the intricate choreography in a way that is impossible to replicate in a cavernous theater like the Parker Playhouse or Broward Center. He and Mills do hope to transfer the show Off Broadway following its South Florida run.
The 51-year-old (who was born on Valentine’s Day) genuinely seems surprised at the reaction to his latest productions.
“I wrote [‘Gacy’] 25 years ago and ‘Come Out! Come Out!,’ like two years ago,” he said. “This isn’t something new.”
Larsen attributes the ability to take commercial risks to his new home at the Foundry.
"I have a home now,” he explained. “It’s not that I’m changing. Fort Lauderdale has embraced me in a way that I can do this work. The audiences want to see the work and I can take chances.”
Ronnie Larsen presents the world premiere of “Come Out! Come Out!” Feb. 21 – March 29 at the Foundry at Wilton Theater Factor, 2306 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35-50 at RonnieLarsen.com.