‘Whatever turns you on’

By Heather Scroering

“Nana’s bed!” an actor shouts with joy. “At Jewish camp!” another squeals. One by one, cast members bellow out the most interesting places where they have had a sexual experience. Most musicals don’t get so personal, but “Let My People Come,” a musical about sex featuring songs called “Dirty Words” and “Whatever Turns You On,” is hardly one to take your mother to.

Marketed as a “sexual musical,” “Let My People Come” celebrates the human body and the reality of sex as a natural human activity. Produced by the Street Tempo Theatre Company—which was created by Brian Posen, adjunct professor in the Theatre Department—the musical is running at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Fifteen Columbia students are participating in the production.

“Seeing a show that’s completely about sex, the audience kind of realizes, ‘Wow, there are so many different sides to it,’” said Nathan Cooper, sophomore theatre major, who plays himself in the production. “There are instances where you should be sensitive [to sex] and be embracing of it, but it shouldn’t be such an embarrassing, taboo thing.”

“Let My People Come” first ran in a Greenwich Village theater in 1974, according to Posen, who is also director of the musical and artistic director at Stage 773. The musical revue never officially opened because the production team felt critics would not do it service, Posen said. Regardless, the show sold out for years.

Plans to transform the performance into a Broadway production were in order. However, the playwright, Early Wilson Jr., disliked what the new producers were doing with the piece, according to Posen. Though it previewed 128 times between June and October 1976, the show never officially opened on Broadway either, according to Internet Broadway Database.

A product of the ’60s liberation movement, the original show was performed with the entire cast—who were not professionally trained actors but “hippies”—completely in the nude.

Though Posen’s rendition of “Let My People Come” contains some nudity, the actors are not completely in the buff shaking audience members’ hands as they leave the theater, like the original cast

members did.

“It was a different message in 1974,” Posen said. “We approached the work from revitalizing it, holding onto the message more so than just the pure novelty of everyone being naked. The piece addresses more issues of what we are dealing with now.”

Being naked in front of a crowd of people is a challenge, even for an actress, said Danni Parpan, 2010 Columbia theatre alumna, who goes topless for part of the production. She said when rehearsals first started, cast members wondered if they would do a “disservice” to the show by choosing not to go nude.

“I think up until a week before we opened, we still didn’t have the answer to that question,” Parpan said. “There were definitely people who invested all of this time and energy in this show and were getting ready to open, and they were not comfortable being naked.”

However, Posen remedied the discomfort by inviting those cast members who were comfortable doing so to run a rehearsal in their underwear. After the run, the cast decided to perform the show in underwear, according to Parpan.

It was easy for Cooper to get over his discomfort of being nude in front of a crowd.

“If we were embarrassed about it, I felt like that would kind of cheapen it,” he said. “If we’re embarrassed, the audience is going to be embarrassed.”

“Let My People Come” is representative of a variety of body types and sexual orientations. Cooper believes having performers with “normal” body types affects the audience’s connection with the production because it is more relatable. Posen felt like this was an important component.

“That’s not what the piece was all about,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that the piece was very authentic and sincere.”

“Let My People Come” is Street Tempo’s first performance, and many advised Posen not to open with it. It wasn’t Posen’s first choice to open with, but other theaters received the rights to his other selections before he did.

Cooper hopes audiences leave with a more open mind regarding sex.

“[The musical] makes people kind of face the reality of how they view sex because you can come to the show

and openly see it and enjoy it,” Cooper said.

For ticket purchases, visit Stage773.com.