2023 Capital Fringe Preview: ‘Brunch with the Boys,’ a comic opera

'Fast, loud, and funny has been our mantra for the show. We wanted a comic piece that features the grit of contemporary gay culture.'

By Sean Pflueger

Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Capital Fringe Festival (July 12 to 23), and DC Theater Arts has offered space to ten Fringe producers to describe their shows in their own words. Check back for more 2023 Capital Fringe previews!

The concept for Brunch with the Boys started with the idea of exploring gay friendship through a very gay brunch with five gay friends. It was a concept I had for years, but it didn’t have a definite story until I met with a librettist in New York, Michael Vegas Mussman. We arranged to meet over Zoom after listening to samples of each other’s work. After conversations about Sondheim, Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Cole Porter, and Jerry Herman, our understanding of theater, and our own experiences as gay men, a part of the larger LBGT+ community, we began working together on a new comic opera.

Fast, loud, and funny has been our mantra for the show. We didn’t want to write a gay tragedy. We wanted a comic piece that features the grit of contemporary gay culture. The music is influenced by the Great American Songbook, Gershwin, Cole Porter, etc. There is always a little Sondheim in my music because I adore his work. The show’s live orchestra contains a piano, trumpet, clarinet, violin, and double bass. Michael and I wanted the show lyrically to have a bit of Cole Porter without the obfuscation. That means there are a lot of double entendres (i.e., sex jokes).

The final incarnation of the show as it will appear at Capital Fringe focuses on five guy friends gathering for cocktails and waffles with their favorite acid-tongued waitress. This all-LGBT+ cast will spill the tea and sing their hearts out to an original score. Anything but bottomless, like a mimosa this story’s a little sour and a LOT of sweet.

The characters are diverse in their representation of the gay community. There is a twink, a bear, a daddy, a drag queen, lots of references to gay sex, and the details of gay relationships. When we discussed the tone of the show, Michael and I agreed that we wanted to go as explicit as a typical discussion would between sexually adventurous active gay friends. I’ve blushed while singing various songs for family members. There are ways that gay men talk that don’t happen in front of their straight families.

I’ve tested various terms in the show with my straight friends to see if those LGBT+ terms have permeated straight culture. Apparently, twunk has not crossed over yet, though most have a vague understanding of the word twink. There may be a glossary of definitions in the program for the non-initiated. It was so much fun to write music that leans into the overt sexuality of the lyrics.

LGBT+ people are not regularly represented in the standard canon of opera. There are reimaginings of the Big 50, the most commonly performed operas in the U.S., but almost none are overtly or innately LGBT+. Every character, and singer playing them, in Brunch with the Boys is part of the LGBT+ community. Because the opera canon can be limiting, many of our performers haven’t had the opportunity to play a character so close to their own lived experience. Three of the performers are current members of the Washington National Opera Chorus, with more than a decade of experience singing the standard repertoire in Kennedy Center performances.

Brunch with the Boys is for all theater lovers to enjoy. I really want people to experience opera in a new way, to understand that opera is a medium, not a genre, and that opera can be for everyone. The music and lyrics in Brunch with the Boys wouldn’t be out of place in any musical theater setting. The wry, silly, and funny characters could be seen on any contemporary television show. The only corsets and wigs in this production will be worn by our drag performer, Miss Kitty (she/her), as the waitress.

I am willing to bet that the majority of the audience at the Capital Fringe Festival may have never seen an opera before. I want them to witness a show that speaks to their modern experience of the world while hearing the beauty of opera in live performance. Anyone who has enjoyed a musical will be able to connect with our story and appreciate the skill of the performers.

But best of all, they will laugh.

Running Time: 60 minutes.

Brunch with the Boys plays at DCJCC–Theater J as follows: July 13 at 6 pm, July 19 at 6 pm, July 21 at 8 pm, July 22 at 1 pm, and July 23 at 11:15 am. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

Sean Pflueger is a Washington DC-area singer and composer with a focus on works for the voice. Works for the stage include Children in the Mist, a horror opera based on the Stephen King short story “The Mist,”; Brides and Mothers, a chamber opera for four women; The Pier Point Lobster Race commission for the 50th anniversary of The College Light Opera Company; and Do Not Disturb, an operatic farce,  premiered at the 2016 Capital Fringe Festival. Hailed for its “fine, contemporary musical score” (MD Theatre Guide) and “complicated and beautiful melodies,” (DC Metro Theatre Arts), Children in the Mist was awarded Best of the Capital Fringe from DC Theatre Scene, and a Top Pick by Huffington Post and Brightest Young Things.

Composer: Sean Pflueger
Lyricist: Michael Vegas Mussman
Conductor: Aurelio Dominguez
Cast: Alex Bodenham, Dan Sherwood, Case Hope, Ben Clark, Sean Pflueger, and Miss Kitty
Pianist: Brad Rinaldo

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.

SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Festival to pop up in Georgetown and Dupont (news story, April 28, 2023)


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