In 1940 and 1941, the gay book editor and bon vivant George Davis (Julian Fleisher) assembled some of the brightest young cultural lights of his day to share a Victorian boardinghouse in Brooklyn Heights. From this vaguely promising faucet, Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley have drawn a long, tepid bath of a musical called February House, which attempts to find drama in what appears to be have been a period of artistic inconsequence for almost all concerned.
The most appealing of the boarders, in this account, is the frail but gung ho Southern novelist Carson McCullers (a well-cast Kristen Sieh). Otherwise, these all-stars of the arts are a pretty dull lot. The poet W.H. Auden (Erik Lochtefeld) is a testy sad sack in romantic thrall to a college boy (A.J. Shively); the composer Benjamin Britten (Stanley Bahorek) and his lover, the singer Peter Pears (Ken Barnett), are fussy English ninnies; Erika Mann (Stephanie Hayes) is a husky-voiced German literary martinet; and the up-market stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (Kacie Sheik) is a braying, charmless hussy.
The rising composer Gabriel Kahane is at his best when setting Auden’s actual poetry to art-song music. His own lyrics, however, are curiously corny and awkward (“The house is freezing / And I am downright wheezing”), and Seth Bockley’s book can’t make a series of circumstances seem like events. To the extent that this enervating evening has a point, it appears to be about an emerging sense of gay cultural community: “Growing up gay in Clinton, Michigan / Every day I’d wish and wish again / For a place where I would belong,” sings George. It may be a sign of how far we have come that the same-sex content of this thumb-twiddling musical should seem, in itself, so unworthy of note.—Adam Feldman