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Clay Elder is ‘Bad’ — but also loves Fast and Testimony Meetings

The fundraiser for Salt Lake Acting Company is at once wickedly hilarious and lovingly tender.

What?!? You haven’t bought a ticket yet? Just buy a damn ticket and be thoroughly entertained (and awed) at this tremendous New York City-style cabaret show at Salt Lake Acting Company, a sublime performance local audiences will not have the chance to see without traveling to the Big Apple.

Those with even little interest in live entertainment, witnessed at the least by reading this article, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Snag a ticket.

And buy quickly: At this writing, only three performances remain: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (You can join me when I return Sunday evening.)

I don’t overstate when I say Claybourne Elder’s I Want to Be Bad is thoroughly entertaining.

Clay is a bona fide Broadway star with multiple lead roles in major productions. For example, in the early Stephen Sondheim musicals Road Show and Bonnie and Clyde, two jobs booked without an agent. And more recently in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George and Sondheim’s gender role-reversed Company — with Patti LuPone. The ultimate diva has also recorded a brassy introduction to Clay’s show, calling him “talented and stupidly funny.” The pair are now pals; he helped select appliances for her kitchen.

The major themes were being bad — exiting the Mormon Church as a gay man — and becoming a father. You’ll forgive me if I summarize it as “bad and dad.”

Clay is a powder-keg humorist—à la Jackie Hoffman at Joe’s Pub, but endearing. He is also a vivacious soloist with charmingly captivating stories related.

To express his love for his son, he sings “Hey, Kid” from If/Then written at a child’s birth: “As a father, kid, I may not have a clue / But your dad and me will somehow muddle through / If my asshole dad could do it, I can too / In fact, I’ll do better, I’ll start new / ’Cause, kid / My kid / Our kid / I love you.”

With an older gay brother, the youngsters performed mini Broadway shows in their Springville, Utah, living room. Clay singing “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, with a red towel wrapped about his head to indicate Ariel’s red hair and with a recognizable stance, elevating herself on a rock while waves crash behind her. And his brother: “The Trolly Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis. Which Clay jealously wanted to perform. He reclaimed the song, performing it with lyric assist from his skilled accompanist and friend Rodney Bush. Reclaimed in a manner just shy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reclaiming her time.

The pair, who made charcuterie boards together, agreed they would be going to hell for being gay, while also recognizing that the netherworld is where all the fun people are.

His final song, before a pseudo encore, was “How Glory Goes” from Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins on wondering what an afterlife might be: “Do we live? Is it like a little town? / Do we get to look back down at who we love?” and “Will my mama be there waiting for me? / Smilin’ like the way she does / And holdin’ out her arms.”

Clay introduced the song by explaining how he needed to adjust his faith structure after exiting the fabricated Mormon Church and relearning what he should teach his son.

At church events, he was introduced to a wavy-haired, loosely robed hunk, who was his first crush. But Clay was aghast when he drank of his blood and ate his body parts (with no clarification of body part he consumed).

He hated attending Sunday meetings and would hold a thermometer close to a warm light bulb until it read 280 degrees and return it under his tongue to be found “ill” and released from joining his seven siblings and fellow congregates.

But not Fast and Testimony, which he compared to an open-mic comedy show with members low on blood sugar after withholding food and perhaps oversharing. To the consternation of his ecclesiastical bishop, Clay would have four weeks to prepare a distinctive and undoubtedly outrageous “testimony” at the meetings. He may have followed an Avon-selling, hair-close-to-god sister who routinely sobbed at the pulpit until she was handed a Kleenex.

Back to his music: Stellar interpretations included “Moments in the Woods” from Into the Woods and a passionate “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George. Both by Stephen Sondheim.
During the pandemic, with his son Bo and husband Eric, Clay was invited several times to the master composer’s upstate home and developed a strong bond. Clay can claim the title of premier Sondheim interpreter after a record multiple roles in his shows, along with this warm friendship.

In an interview, he revealed to me that he has considered developing an all-Sondheim revue, performing popular songs from these many show portrayals and works from other forever-to-be-performed musicals. When this show is staged, Clay, might it debut at Salt Lake, please?

►Tickets at saltlakeactingcompany.org and 801-363-7522

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