South Florida theater audiences are best acquainted with playwright Michael Aman’s serious side:
Two years ago, Island City Stage, the LGBT-centric company based in Wilton Manors offered the world premiere of Aman’s “Poz,” a dark comedy about a young man with leukemia who contemplates infecting himself with HIV in order to qualify for health insurance.
Last season, the company presented the world premiere of “Feeding the Bear,” the story of a gay man struggling with body dysmorphia who must cope with his aging father’s dementia. This play was heavily influenced by Aman’s relationship with his own father’s deteriorating health.
On Oct. 16, audiences will get a sneak-peek at Aman’s latest work, “Muscle Bears the Musical,” a drastic departure from the weighty, thoughtful subjects of those previous productions.
“It’s just silly fun,” admitted Aman during a telephone interview from his New York home.
He also confessed that musicals have always been his first love. He penned his first as a young man in the 1990s, but realized that if he hoped to have his works eventually staged, he would need to focus on plays.
The idea for “Muscle Bears” was brought to him less than a year ago. Through his husband, Michael Bush, Aman met composer Matt Doer. Unlike many projects that may take years to come together and not make it to a stage, the musical seemed to “fall into place,” he said.
The protagonist is a young cub who becomes frustrated with the dating scene. He is lampooned and bullied by other men on dating apps for his stocky build and body hair.
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Just when he is about to shave his body or give up all hope of love, a “furry bear daddy” appears and introduces him to the bear community. That moment is the inspiration for one of Aman’s favorite musical numbers, “Gillette.”
At the end of the first act, the audience will be polled to determine which of the cub’s suitors will get a date in the second act. Aman and Doer had to write four different endings to prepare for whatever preference the audience might render.
Musically, Doer’s score is rhythmic and tuneful, reminiscent of the music LGBT might hear in their favorite clubs. The show ends with an ensemble number that Aman said sounds like a gay men’s chorus. Several of the songs can be previewed on Kickstarter.com.
Keeping the economics of a successful musical in mind, Aman kept the cast, sets and props to a minimum. Even though actors will be performing on book, the reading will be very close to the experience of a full production. Aman’s husband is also directing the reading.
“We have to be very careful of getting into that reading trap,” Aman explained. “Some plays get stuck and never make it out of readings and onto the stage.”
Stage play readings have become extremely popular in South Florida in recent years. Several works featured at the Jan McArt New Play Reading Series at Lynn University in Boca Raton have been produced by regional companies. The South Florida Theatre League also offers a weekly series throughout the summer months at theaters across the region.
The reading will allow Aman and Doer to evaluate the effectiveness of the book and music and make those necessary tweaks before shopping the musical to other theater companies; however, he’d be pleased if Island City Stage added the show to a future season.
Island City Stage presents a staged reading of Michael Aman’s “Muscle Bears the Musical” on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. at the Abyss Theatre, 2304 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Tickets are limited and cost $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Proceeds benefit the company’s operating fund. For more information, go to IslandCityStage.org.