The laughs, and the spotlight, are on George Hansel this Saturday night in Asbury Park…as the actor, director and tech ace presents his autobiographical cabaret BURLY MAN SINGS GIRLY SONGS: MY LIFE AS A SHOWTUNE QUEEN AND SEXUAL OUTLAW.
“When I got the idea to do this show, I called one of my former partners,” says George Hansel, holding court amid car mufflers and a Bagster of ripped-out insulation out back of his Asbury Park home. “He said Oh, you’re doing a show about the men in your life? How long is it…five hours?”
Then it starts: that laugh; that unmistakeable tsunami of mirth that resonates instantly with anyone who’s ever performed in or attended a musical and/or comedy in and around the greater Asbury area. A hearty and robust gale, triangulated somewhere between Ed McMahon, George Takei and Santa Claus (with just a devilish wink of Sydney Greenstreet); an encouraging force that’s emerged from the seats of many a darkened theater, to spur many a player on to their best performances.
On Saturday night, August 31st, it’s George Hansel’s turn to stand before the audience — and it’ll be up to us to supply the chortles, guffaws and bellowing brio — when the actor, singer, director and lighting designer commandeers the storefront HQ of the Asbury Park Musical Heritage Foundation (the “Where Music Lives” museum at 708 Cookman Avenue) for an autobiographical cabaret entitled BURLY MAN SINGS GIRLY SONGS.
Subtitled “My Life as a Show Tune Queen and Sexual Outlaw”…and pitched as a show to be enjoyed by everyone except children, prudes and homophobes…the solo performance piece — with the accompaniment of musical director Evie Ellis — is a fundraiser for The Black Box of Asbury Park, the arts collective for which Hansel served on the board until recently (ask, and ye shall receive some illuminated and bracingly opinionated reasons why he parted ways with the org). Presented under the banner of Spotlight On Festivals, and directed by that nonprofit company’s own Frank Calo, the sold-out 9 p.m. event at the former home of The ShowRoom cinema arrives one week after the show’s “out of town tryout” at Somerset Valley Playhouse, an opportunity that Hansel took on because “I wanted to do this in front of a crowd that wasn’t mine.”
Hansel’s hometown crowd was treated to a taste of the work-in-progress “Burly Man” during a 2011 Black Box showcase at what was then Chico’s on Lake Avenue — an event at which many of us were pleasantly surprised by the rich singing voice of a man we’d known primarily as a lighting ace for productions by ReVision Theatre and (for nine seasons) the Shadow Lawn Summer Stage series at Monmouth University.
“I only became a lighting designer because techs get paid!,” laughs George, a highly regarded massage therapist by trade who wound up taking on much of the choreographing and directing of those Monmouth shows (“actors would wonder why the lighting designer was giving them the best insights”), eventually becoming credited director of a student production of “The Passion of Dracula,” and a professional staging of “And Then There Were None” (one in which a non-firing pistol nearly murdered the show’s opening night at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre). Beginning with the upcoming school year’s “Laramie Project,” Hansel assumes a new post as director of the drama productions at Monmouth Regional High School in Tinton Falls.
An unusual path for a kid from a bygone rural version of Manalapan (“we had chickens in the yard”) — one whose instincts led him to Christopher Street and the West Village of the late 1970s and early 80s; an interlude about which he notes “all of my friends from that era are dead.”
“I felt for my parents, since they knew I was gay from an early age,” says George, who spent two recent years caring for his Florida-based folks prior to their passing. “In the show, we pick up from when I was six years old, when I tied my little neighbor boy up in the basement…because I’d already developed my penchant for bondage! (insert laugh here)”
As to what precisely the audience will be experiencing when that Burly Man sings those Girly Songs? Hansel suggests that it might be further subtitled “My Life as a Serial Monogamist…if you’re going to have multiple relationships in your life, do ’em one at a time!”
Rest assured, There Will Be Show Tunes — things like “Bring On the Men” from “Jekyll & Hyde” (“I’m a Frank Wildhorn fan”); selections from “Guys and Dolls;” some Streisand, natch — most written for women to sing, and prefaced with George addressing the audience, “which is significant, since I have no problem acting on a stage…but as myself, in a piano bar, I’m terrified.”
“Being a show tune queen means that when something happens in my life, a show tune pops into my head,” he says with the requisite laugh. “I believe that there’s a show tune that’s appropriate for every moment in life!”
There’s a multimedia aspect as well, with attendees treated to a snippet of the vintage “educational” film “Boys Beware,” and a display of “photos of me with as many men as I could find pictures of.” AND there are three duet numbers scheduled to be performed with “a special guest.”
“It ain’t deep…but I hope it’s amusing,” says George, whose stated plans to relocate to the Netherlands, native turf of his longtime partner, are tempered by a desire to maintain at least a part-time presence in Asbury (and part ownership of his Third Avenue house, home as well to various tenants, boarders and permanent guests).
“My life’s an open book…I don’t edit myself well, as you know…and when I wanna be a bad boy, I go ahead and do it,” he sums up with…wait for it…a laugh. “Everybody knows everything about me…I can’t be blackmailed!”