Monday, March 7, 2011

Musical Theatre Geekdom

Over the past two weekends, I've seen two local shows that glorify & lampoon musical theatre geeks: The Drowsy Chaperone, produced by 3D Theatricals (new tenant at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton), and West Side Terri at Monkey Wrench Collective in Fullerton.

The Drowsy Chaperone is precisely what you would expect: a big, sprawling production with eye-popping costumes and scenic elements. Its narrator, a self-described musical theatre geek, confesses his love for an obscure (fictional) musical of the 1920s, the album for which he lovingly cues up on his LP turntable to play for us as he recounts its plot and the scuttlebut he's collected about its lead performers. The musical unfolds behind him, a silly-but-fun show redolent of (but nowhere as good as) Cole Porter. The cast worked hard to keep the show's 1 hour 45 minute intermissionless length peppy, but the conceit of the narrator occasionally slowed things down (probably a necessity to cover scene shifts and costume changes), and the way the script hints broadly at his being a closet homosexual reinforces the stereotype of gay musical theatre lovers that by now seems hackneyed. Critical reaction to The Drowsy Chaperone when it first appeared on Broadway was mixed, yet the show found an audience there and even more success on the road. And the former FCLO Music Theatre audience appeared to love the show--and there were definitely moments of undeniable entertainment gold that made seeing it worthwhile.

West Side Terri turned out to be a much more honest and satisfying expose of musical theatre geekdom, as accomplished local actress Terri Mowrey confides her obsession with West Side Story and proceeds to perform it almost in its entirety for us. In the hands of a less-skilled artist, this could have been excruciating, but Mowrey is a committed actor, unafraid of baring her soul. Anyone familiar with the film or stage productions of West Side Story will howl at her near-perfect replicas of some of the show's biggest moments--down to the Jerome Robbins choreography. Yet, as she hilariously deconstructs the scenes in her unabashed way, she also portrays with aplomb how easily seduced she was by the allure of musical theatre--especially one as great as West Side Story--and all in just slightly over an hour.

Having had a love-hate relationship with musicals all my life, seeing these two shows hit closer to home than I feel comfortable sharing!

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