By Gregg Shapiro
Filmmaker Tom Gustafson and his frequent screenwriting collaborator Cory Krueckeberg (2008’s Were the World Mine and others) definitely had their work cut out for them with their ambitious, but flawed, film adaptation of John Michael LaChiusa’s non-traditional off-Broadway musical Hello Again (The Orchard/Speak), now available on DVD. Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde, LaChiusa is not the first playwright to have his way, so to speak, with the original play’s overt themes of uninhibited sexuality.
Opening in what looks like the near future, Hello Again begins with Ruth (Martha Plimpton) in a cozy peepshow setting where she swipes a credit card and begins her quest for lost loves, guided along by masked and shirtless Leocadio (Sam Underwood). The first stop is 1901where hot and horny soldier Les (Nolan Gerard Funk) hooks up with a cross-dressing singing prostitute. In 1944, an ageless Les is getting drunk at a USO dance. There he meets nurse Marie (Jenna Ushkowitz) for a little R&R (ramming and release) and a song.
Looking as if no time has passed at all, the 1967 version of Marie is still in the healthcare biz. This time she’s caring for Alfred (Al Calderon), a privileged college student nursing a sprained ankle. In case you haven’t noticed the established pattern, they have sex and sing to each other. Next, we are transported back in time to 1929 where Al is having an affair with married woman Emily (Rumer Willis). Their usual meeting place is a movie palace where, you guessed it, they have a sexual encounter (and sing).
The 1956 version of Emily is worried that husband Carl (T. R. Knight) is tired of her. Rightfully so since he’s more concerned with making it to the opera on time than making time with his wife. On the Titanic, in 1912, Carl lures younger Jack (Tyler Blackburn), who is stuck in third class, to his stateroom. Carl, aware that the ship has hit an iceberg, doesn’t let such a detail get in the way of his pursuit of the young man. Like the Titanic, this segment doesn’t end well.
The Jack of 1976 is a disco twinkie who hooks up with self-absorbed auteur Robert (Cheyenne Jackson) for a night of gay passion back at the filmmaker’s pad. Not making movies anymore, but still creative, the 2002 Robert is trying to resuscitate the career of diva Sally (Audra McDonald). He’s convinced her to return to the recording studio to make a dance music record to attract some new fans. Of course, the song was written by Robert. But Sally’s not happy with the auto-tune voice manipulation and is on the verge of calling it quits. Robert and Sally have both a professional and romantic history, making for an opportunity for them to have sex in the studio.
As we’re about to come full-circle, we are given a glimpse of Sally’s 1989 affair with a closeted female senator named Ruth (played by, you guessed it, Plimpton). Of course, their love can’t be made public and so both women end up alone and unfulfilled.
In addition to sex, lovers being cruel to each other, especially the men to the women, is another theme that runs through this complicated, non-linear musical. Gustafson does an admirable job of bringing it to screen in that he makes it look good. But, if you loved Were The World Mine (as I did), you will surely be disappointed by Hello Again.
If all of this sounds like too much, consider taking a listen to Hello Again: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Broadway Records). You won’t have the visuals (think Jackson’s butt, Funk’s abs and all of Underwood’s body), but you will still get to hear the songs, including dancefloor-ready “Beyond The Moon”, sung by McDonald.