Like "Rent" and "Hair" before it, "Slut" is a four-letter East Village rock musical for its age: the Starbucks age. Its East Village is a gentrified one, catering not only to freaks and geeks but also to the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. Though there are references to Avenue A and The Village Voice, the show could just as easily take place in Murray Hill or Great Neck.
Where the "Rent" crew hung out in hip cafes and avant-garde performance spaces, the "Slut" gang frequents what is supposed to be a dive bar but seems more like a tacky Mexican chain restaurant, judging from the chili-pepper light garlands and bachelorette party attendees downing raspberry margaritas. The centerpiece of the set is a nine-shelf bar. While "Rent" takes a serious look at coping with HIV, "Slut" has one character who gets laughs singing "I've got the herp," as in herpes.
Still, today's East Village isn't completely charmless, and neither is "Slut," an Off-Broadway musical that never truly soars but never embarrasses itself, either.
Adam (Andy Karl), a handsome 20-something, has one goal: to sleep with as many women as possible. His friend, the preppy and prudish Dan (Jim Stanek), has spent his whole life preparing to become a doctor. After Dan fails the board exam, Adam brings him to a bar, where Dan picks up aspiring rock star Delia (Jenn Colella) and falls hard.
It turns out that Delia shares Adam's commitment problem somewhat, and she and Dan have a breakup that spurs Dan to become a slut himself. Meanwhile, as Delia's star rises, she becomes a figurative slut for the music industry, wearing Marc Jacobs and getting mentioned on Page Six of the New York Post.
Though the title implies otherwise, "Slut" has few rough edges. Stephen Sislen and Ben H. Winters' rock songs don't demonstrate a unique voice, but they do inspire toe-tapping, and choreographer Warren Carlyle's energetic staging helps. Director Gordon Greenberg keeps the book scenes moving quickly. The cast has charisma to spare.
The tone is pretty broad, typified by a song that consists mainly of euphemisms for impotence. The musical does manage to find some comedy that rings true, mainly via Adam, who exaggerates the male slut archetype to absurd levels of unapologetic brashness. As he wakes up next to his latest conquest, he takes down her phone number while crooning a song called "I'm Probably Not Gonna Call." His typical pickup line? "I want to have sex with you tonight." Later in the show, having conquered New York, he sets sail on a crudely named boat on a mission to seduce Malaysians, Kazakhs and others.
OK, so it isn't "Rent," but it doesn't pretend to be.
SLUT. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. The American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th St., Manhattan. Tickets are $55. Call 212-239-6200 or visit www.slutthemusical.com.