Hello My Name is Billy
nytheatre.com review by Dan Kitrosser
March 20, 2010
"Hello, my name is Billy," Billy says at a meeting. Again. He just can't seem to kick his addiction. Again. Or that guy who manipulates him into that abusive relationship. Again. First crack, then coke, then pills, then meth, Billy rides the substance abuse merry-go-round so many times you'd think he ought to catch that brass ring of sobriety. But such is not the case for our perpetually innocent Billy in Tim Aumiller and Scott Schneider's good-natured but highly repetitive chamber musical Hello, My Name is Billy, playing at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre in the West Village.
The show begins with Billy (Casey McClellan) telling the audience his first story of drug addiction, which involved a sixteenth birthday, a road trip with his father's employee, anal sex, and crack. This introduction—both to Billy and the narrative style of the show, where music and straight dialogue are woven together into a direct address to the audience—is extremely enjoyable. We get to meet Barry (Aaron Kliner)—or as Billy and his chorus will sing, "Beautiful Barry!"—a middle-aged crack addict who gives Billy his first taste of lust, dust, and loss. "Beautiful Barry!" is the most memorable song and my personal favorite, probably because it is the simplest one and most tightly bound to the story. Many of the other songs are vaudevilles of addiction, and though hilariously sung and acted by McClellan and the hard-working chorus, the show becomes a revue with not enough variety in its acts to sustain itself.
What must be stated is that McClellan, who sings and acts the whole of the 90 minutes, is a pro. He carries this show with a tremendous amount of ease, innocence, and humor. The supporting cast, all of whom play the accompaniment, are terrific. Aaron Kliner (guitar, Barry, Billy's Dad) is gruff, yet graceful. Tush (percussion, Billy's one girlfriend) is vivacious and honest. Robert Maril (Billy's various friends and boyfriends) is sexy and sharp. And Scott Schneider, who co-wrote the show and plays piano, is terrifically funny as Billy's annoying suburban sister. The direction of the show, by co-writer Aumiller, keeps it moving along, but also allows the characters breathing room when the story calls for it.
Hello, My Name is Billy is at its best when it is sincere. That is not to say that it must be a sober look at insobriety. Aumiller and Schneider use innocent Billy to show their cynicism about both users and the people who judge them, but oftentimes rather than listening to Billy, they put upon him drug after drug and use gimmick after gimmick to the point where even the comedy wanes. But when they penetrate Billy's emotional history, as in a scene that finds him crying in the backroom of his father's store as a kid, Aumiller and Schneider create a moving and entertaining portrait of a boy in pain. When Billy confides that he's crying because he doesn't have any friends, Billy's father says, "Well you don't have any friends because you're so goddamned weird." It's touching, it's horrible, it's hilarious, and best of all, it's honest.
On the whole, there is a lot to admire about Hello, My Name is Billy. It is great fun to see someone fall into the depths of drug-addled despair, all inside a musical comedy. But I must return to the merry-go-round analogy. Because as much fun as it is to go around that first time, the second time you hop on, it can become a little boring.