BACK IN FASHION
Best known for the song "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the 1933 Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach musical Roberta is the latest concert musical to be staged by San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon. "I think it's the romance that really appeals to me," says company co-founder Greg MacKellan, who is directing the piece. "It evokes this world of the early 1930s so well in the music and lyrics, almost like this big art deco dream world."
42nd Street Moon is one of a growing number of companies dedicated to staging concert versions of lesser-known musicals that might otherwise become lost to history. New York City's Encores! series is, in MacKellan's words, "the crown jewel" of such companies, but there are similar enterprises in Los Angeles, Seattle, London, and Melbourne. 42nd Street Moon was founded in 1993 (a year before Encores!) and was directly influenced by the New Amsterdam Theater, which produced concert musicals in New York in the early 1980s.
"There's such a huge repertoire of the American musical theater that doesn't get investigated," says MacKellan. "Producing musicals is very expensive, and this format allows you to dispense with some of the physical production that can be so costly. So you can be a little more creative and adventuresome in your choices of shows."
Roberta tells the story of an American football jock who inherits a Parisian dress salon from his aunt, Madame Roberta (played in this production by Kathryn Crosby), whose famous designs are worn by the well-to-do of Europe. The stage musical differs slightly from the 1935 film version, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. "The biggest difference is that the roles played by Astaire and Rogers were turned into dancing roles, which they're not in the original," says MacKellan. "They also added the song 'I Won't Dance,' which had actually been written for a different Kern musical."
Although "I Won't Dance" is not included in the 42nd Street Moon production, the show does feature "Lovely to Look At" --- another addition to the movie adaptation, with music by Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. "New Amsterdam did Roberta around 1985," explains MacKellan. "It was arranged and orchestrated by Larry Moore, and we're using his vocal arrangements for our production."
While most 42nd Street Moon productions costume the actors in the style of the period, Roberta is going one step beyond that, offering what MacKellan describes as a "huge fashion show" complete with vintage 1930s dresses. Although actors carry scripts during the performances, MacKellan notes that "we don't use them for any of the musical numbers and the actors aren't literally reading from them; they learn their parts."
OOPS! THEY DID IT AGAIN!
"We're the junk food of theater, a guilty pleasure," says Fiely A. Matias, one half of The OOPS GUYS Comedy Troupe. He and his partner, Dennis T. Giacino, are participating in the first annual Orlando Cabaret Festival with Trapped in Cabaret!, a spoof of club acts that promises "to offend just about everyone."
The OOPS GUYS have previously demonstrated their quirky brand of humor in shows such as The Naked Guy, That's ExploitAsian, and Asian Sings the Blues! This latest show features a number of songs from their prior efforts, including the hilarious "Shy One Chromosome." The deceptively sweet tune contains such provocative lyrics as "I'm shy one chromosome / From being crowned Miss USA / Still I pine for long silky legs / So I can squat above a bidet."
"Dennis is the creator genius of all the songs and scripts," says Matias, who is the duo's vocal interpreter. "We also have a song called 'Teenage Mutant Boy Scout from the Nuclear Fallout Zone.' It's our spoof of B-movies. You know how in B-movies, everything got bigger? In this song, I wear a five-foot prosthetic penis. The Orlando Sentinel, which is the most conservative paper here, said it was the most outrageous prop they've ever seen in Orlando theater history."
The pair's partnership began nearly 12 years ago. "We met at a gay social group in the basement of some church," says Matias. "At first, we were doing children's shows because we lived in a small conservative town in Oregon. Then we moved to Seattle, a more urban city, and to compete with the theaters there who were doing more off-beat stuff, we started writing our own material. We didn't want to pay royalties for other shows because we had no money. What came out was a combination of my sense of humor, which is very performance-art abstract, and Dennis's mainstream theater aesthetic."
Hot on the heels of Trapped in Cabaret!, the OOPS GUYS will move on to a spoof of Reality TV shows called Do I Make You Horny?, which they'll present at the Orlando Fringe Festival later in May. "When we watched Reality TV shows, one basic theme kept coming through," says Matias: "A lot of them were exploiting sex to sell the show. So we decided to create a game show just based on sex. We've cast about 22 people who are competing as to who can make the audience the most horny."
All of this is a far cry from the duo's beginnings in children's shows, but the Filipino-American Matias does still have some connection to his roots in family entertainment. "I'm a street performer at Disney," he states. "I do a Renaissance Fair type audience participation street show. At Epcot, there are UK and France Pavilions, and I pretend that I'm British and French."
ICE CREAM TREAT
Although Ray Bradbury is perhaps best known for his science fiction works (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles), the veteran writer has experimented in several different genres, including playwriting. The Minneapolis-based Mixed Blood Theatre is currently reviving Bradbury's 1972 play The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (based on his 1957 short story "The Magic White Suit"). "It's about six guys who want to look beautiful in the world and they all go in on a white suit," says director Wilma Bonet. "It represents all their hopes and dreams of the future. It's very much the immigrant looking for the American dream."
The bilingual company is presenting the show in both English and Spanish; the latter version is offered in a translation by producer-actor Raúl Ramos. The all-Latino cast is an eclectic mixture of Nuyorican, Columbian, Panamanian, Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Chicano performers who enact both the Spanish and English versions of the play. "That was a challenge," admits Bonet. "I was concerned because I never actually directed in two languages before, but it works very well. I have noticed that the actors, when we go to the English, use Spanish words in and out. Most of them speak English all the time, so that's the brain switching."
In the play, the six men take turns wearing the white suit, which seems to have the magical ability to make their wishes come true. "Each character is unique because each one has particular dreams," says Bonet. "There's one who's a philosopher/poet, and he has these beautiful passages about how he sees life. They're all poor but they all have a richness to themselves that they don't see yet." Since the show is billed as a "magical fable of optimism and camaraderie," it's probably safe to assume that self-discovery is at the heart of the tale.