Full House! The Musical!
A beloved childhood sitcom becomes a decidedly less adorable musical.
That Bob Saget certainly has a foul mouth, said no one ever during the eight-season run of Full House, the wholesome family sitcom that served as an anchor for ABC's TGIF lineup in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Of course, audiences at Full House! The Musical! (now making its New York debut at Theatre 80) will be singing a different tune. As portrayed by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, Saget comes across as positively filthy (even more so than the comic's recent standup, with which he continues his attempt to shed his family-friendly image). With a score by Bob and Tobly McSmith, Full House! gleefully leaps back and forth across the porous border between bawdy wit and crass vulgarity, resulting in a show that is regularly hilarious and even more often groan-worthy.
In the last decade the McSmiths have firmly established themselves as the premier musical chroniclers of American culture in the 1990s. Their previous works include Bayside! The Musical!, JonBenet Ramsey! Murder Mystery Theater!, and, what is perhaps their masterpiece, Showgirls! The Musical! While Full House! isn't as brilliant as that latter work (D.J. Tanner does not lend herself as naturally to parody as Nomi Malone), it's still brimming with brash and trashy observations ready-made for nostalgic millennials.
For the unfamiliar, Full House tells the story of single dad Danny Tanner (Hilton) and his three daughters D.J. (Amanda Nicholas), Stephanie (Marguerite Halcovage), and Michelle (Marshall Louise), who is here referred to as "Mary-Kate and Ashley" (the names of the twin actresses who played Michelle in shifts before growing up to become billionaire fashion moguls). Danny enlists his brother-in-law Jesse (the studly John Duff) and best friend Joey (Seth Blum) to help care for the girls in their charming Victorian home in San Francisco. Danny is the master of the "dad speech," a gently delivered moral with the power of righting any wrong in fewer than 30 minutes (with commercials). But when Mary-Kate and Ashley loses her memory, Stephanie takes up smoking, and D.J. starts a crash diet, he begins to lose his touch. Are we about to witness the downfall of San Francisco's most perfect family/cult?
Naturally, the McSmiths (who also direct) gravitate toward the darker aspects of the peculiar premise for this sitcom: For instance, what's up with the dead mom? A number introducing "empowered independent woman" Rebecca Donaldson (Bridget Russell Kennedy, uncannily reminiscent of Lori Loughlin) subtly points out the incongruity of her career-girl status with her relationship to Uncle Jesse. "I want you to give up all your dreams and move into the attic with me," he sweetly sings to his bride-to-be. The guy song "There's No Gays in San Francisco" (subsequent lyric: "It's like Harvey Milk didn't even existo") similarly exposes the strange absence of sexual minorities in this show set in America's gay mecca (back then, perhaps that was a subject best left to elderly women living in Miami).
Despite their considerable and incisive wit, the McSmiths all too often take the easy route of employing sex and naughty language as the punch line. These elements are great at jazzing up a hilarious foundation, but they're a bit flimsy as theatrical building blocks. That's not to say the crudeness of Full House! isn't striking (it will be difficult to erase the disturbing memory of Perez Hilton musically listing explicit sex acts), just that it becomes somewhat predictable after two hours.
You'll never be bored, however, when Seth Blum is onstage. Not only does he excel in the role of hapless prop comedian Joey, but he also plays D.J.'s best friend Kimmy Gibbler with irrepressible relish. I cried with laughter during Kimmy Gibbler's rap, which features the most creative musical interlude this side of Hamilton.
For his part, Hilton is serviceable in the role of Danny. He gets the job done, leaning a bit too hard on profanity and twisted facial expressions to make it all happen. Truly funny comedy feels a lot more effortless (even if it is not).
Still, you'll laugh through most of ''Full House!" The audience at the preview performance I attended was utterly tickled, though perhaps only through the cockeyed vision of a beloved childhood memory. Certainly, you'll never again be able to watch reruns on Nick at Nite with the same innocence you once did.