From the dungeon to the stage
by Richard Dodds
The annals on the topic are admittedly spotty, but Home Street Home may be the first Broadway-intended musical to have its production meetings in a BDSM dungeon. When Tony Award-winner Jeff Marx (Avenue Q), punk rock star Fat Mike Burnett of NOFX, and professional dominatrix Goddess Soma Snakeoil decided to discuss a possible collaboration, Soma suggested a meeting at her studio – without mentioning to Marx the nature of her for-hire Los Angeles facility.
"Imagine how foreign it was to me the first time I walked in," said Marx, who won a Tony in 2004 as a co-author of the Avenue Q score. "It was my first time walking into a dungeon surrounded by floggers and whips and handcuffs and devices, and I'm not kidding at all." Goddess Soma added, "Now he has a collar that he and his boyfriend play with."
To which Marx explained, "We haven't really gotten deeper into BDSM practices, but we're not scared of it anymore. And this is something the show does so successfully, providing an entree to that scene of BDSM relationships, and seeing what's absolutely beautiful about it."
The BDSM world is one of the main themes running through Home Street Home, which will have its first fully staged production Feb. 20-March 1 at Z Space. "Let's Get Hurt," a song of BDSM possibilities set to a jaunty melody, illustrates that, but the dominant story concerns a teenage girl running away from an abusive home who finds a new family with punk street kids. Set to an alt-pop sound, the song "Monsters" provides a childlike take on the world she is escaping.
While composer Fat Mike and his band NOFX are definitely labeled as punk rockers (and have sold millions of records in their 32-years-and-counting existence), Fat Mike's melodies for Home Street Home veer more toward theatrical accessibility than head-banging discord. "Every one of the songs is just appealing and funny and beautiful," Marx said. "The sound and feel of it are not as alien as you might expect. It's about as out-there as Rocky Horror or Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "
"It's Not Easy Being Gay" is another song from the score, evoking a Muppet connection that isn't too surprising since Avenue Q was an adult riff on the Muppets and Sesame Street. "In both the main story and the secondary story of Home Street Home, the couples are both in gay relationships," Marx said. "One is a polyamorous lesbian relationship, and the other is about two gay men, a teenaged prostitute and his client."
While Marx is gay, Soma identifies as pansexual and is now partnered with fellow BDSM devotee Fat Mike. "I have a daughter who is 15, and he has a daughter who is 10, so that's our blended vanilla family, and we also have our BDSM family, and it's exciting because we get to work together with our BDSM family on a project that is so much about family."
It's been more than four years since Marx first stepped into Dungeon Snakeoil, billed on its website as a "boutique" facility conveniently located near a Starbucks and a retro hamburger joint. The collaboration was first seeded when Fat Mike and Soma went to see a touring company of Avenue Q in Los Angeles. "Mike's band finishes up its shows with a song from Avenue Q, 'Everybody's a Little Bit Racist,' which they sort of act out while they dance around," Soma said. "We told Jeff about that, and then it was pretty great taking him to his first punk show, and he's watching everyone dance around and crowd-surfing and everything."
At a party Marx threw for the Avenue Q cast while it was in LA, Mike and Soma talked to him about a musical they were working on and sent him what they had written so far. "I loved it," Marx said. "I mean, I fucking love it, and I asked how I could help get this out into the world."
With Marx as both a producer and co-author, Home Street Home has gone through years of suggestions, rewrites, table reads, and workshops. "We kept it under wraps," Marx said, "because in this day of the Internet, especially in theater-industry gossip, it's easy for people to start making judgments when a show is still in its infancy."
Home Street Home had its most public viewing this past summer in a workshop at the O'Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut, where Avenue Q was also incubated. "A lot of the theatergoers there were in their 60s and 70s, a much older audience than who we would expect to see this show, and they loved it," Marx said. "What we really found during that time is, yeah, we're dealing with things like BDSM and cutting and living on the streets, but it's a very human show, and anyone can relate to it."
The San Francisco production marks its formal debut, and is the first time the show will be seen with full scenery, lighting, and a live band. The director is Richard Israel, a mainstream Los Angeles stage director whom Marx first encountered when Israel directed a Hollywood production of Avenue Q that Marx thought took the show a step beyond even what the Broadway team had originally achieved.
"I feel sure that San Francisco will be our last stop before we're ready to take it to New York," Marx said. "It's been the unlikely combination of the three of us who have pushed and pulled each other to create what I think is a very special show. Now we just can't wait to show it to the world."
Home Street Home will run Feb. 20-March 1 at Z Space. Tickets are $50-$75. Call (866) 811-4111 or go to homestreethomeonstage.com.