Apparently you can go home again, if you dramatically change your look. This engaging chamber musical relates the tale of an outcast’s return to a small Texas town, years later, in two different guises, played by two actors – one male and one female. With a lush, Sondheim-influenced score by Stephen Hoffman and Mark Campbell, and a Peter Webb script based on an Edward Swift novel, it’s a whimsical, slightly surreal mixture of The Visit, Tennessee Williams, and Del Shores. Ken Salzman’s cast, led by Ben Hensley and Adriana Róze as the hero/heroine, sings beautifully and pulls off the necessary suspension of disbelief.
This Southern Gothic musical, with book by Peter Webb, music by Stephen Hoffman and lyrics by Mark Campbell, is set in small-town Splendora, Texas. Young Timothy John (Ben Hensley) was raised by his eccentric grandmother, Esther Ruth, who donned him in frilly feminine attire till he rebelled and ran away. Now Esther Ruth is dead, and Timothy John returns to Splendora with Jessica Gatewood (Adriana Róze), an imperiously exotic creature who dresses pseudo-Victorian. It soon becomes clear that Jessica and Timothy John are opposing, male/female aspects of one conflicted person. When Jessica starts a flirtation with a shy local minister, Brother Leggett (Michael Gregory), the conflict intensifies. Timothy John is hopelessly in love with the prim preacher, and wants to reassert his male self. A subplot concerns tomboyish Sue Ella (Elizabeth Green), who guesses Timothy John’s secret — and the preacher’s. Local gossips (Janet Clark, Laurie Morgan, Kathryn Skatula and Cory Watson) provide a colorful chorus. Webb’s book is predictable despite a plethora of plot, Campbell’s lyrics are clever, and Hoffman’s music is pleasant if seldom memorable. But director Ken Salzman has mounted a handsome production, with an accomplished cast who keep things interesting in this oddball but engaging venture.