With summer almost upon us, Gaslight Theatre hits the surf with a 1960s teen beach spoof, and it's gnarlatious, fer sure.
Beach Blanket Be-Bop finds a stoked surfer dude named Moondoggie helping his honey, Barbara Anne, get her boardwalk amusement park ready for the summer season, with the assistance of his nerdy hodad sidekick, Melvin. Unfortunately, a greedy developer has his eye on the boardwalk, and uses a beach bully and his dweeby pal to sabotage the roller coaster and pin the blame on Moondoggie.
Will the developer and his bullies be vanquished? Will Moondoggie and Barbara Anne find true love? Will Melvin summon the nerve to ask the equally nerdy Francine to the dance? Will the philosophical surf-club adviser with a mysterious past teach everyone to "ride the glide" through life? Will the strict school administrator let her girls find their true calling as beach bunnies?
Well, of course. It's a Gaslight show. Everything always turns out all right in the end. The only differences from one production to another, really, are the costuming, and the specific pop songbook that gets pillaged to move the action along.
The stakes are lower than usual in Beach Blanket Be-Bop; nobody's after world domination, and the hero has no really spectacular powers, except maybe the ability to ride a cruncher without ending up with a sand facial. Even so, the show, written and directed as usual by Peter Van Slyke, offers lots of fun without going outrageously over the top. Much.
Another difference here is that the various Gaslight regulars get to try out roles that are departures from the norm. The sidekicks come to the fore; a few of the hero/villain types switch places; and the romantic plot belongs for once to the nerdy second bananas, who easily take over the show--especially Mike Yarema as Melvin. The costumes by Maryann Trombino and Renée Cloutier define him visually, from the black socks and garters worn with Bermuda shorts up to the obligatory bandaged eyeglasses. But it's Yarema's job to flesh out the character with his grating voice, deviated-septum snort, physical awkwardness and goofy intelligence. Imagine, if you can, the bastard love child of Jerry Lewis and Peter Lorre. Sarah Vanek matches Yarema point for point, and when the two raise their voices in song, their adenoidal harmonies are heartbreaking, at least to their old voice teachers.
Robert Shaw is handsome and wholesome as Moondoggie, although his part seems a little underwritten considering that he's the hero. Deborah Klingenfus is in her usual fine voice as Barbara Anne, and Nancy LaViola, as the school administrator, is a pleasure to watch during the musical numbers, so graceful and stylish is her every turn. (As usual, she also conceived the choreography.)
The two surfer troublemakers, oddly, talk like they're from the Bronx rather than California, but that just makes them appear tougher (in the case of the lead villain, Moose) or dorkier (in the case of his tag-along, Lunkhead). As Moose, Todd Thompson takes great glee in his bully role; you almost expect him to kick sand in the faces of the kids in the front row. Joe Hubbard brings a lot of life to the part of Lunkhead, a character who could be merely a minor annoyance in other hands.
As the surf-club adviser, David Orley gets to be a good guy for a change, and is convincing as a master of the zen of shooting the curl. Joe Cooper yuks it up, Southern-style, as the greedy developer; imagine, if you can, the bastard love child of Col. Tom Parker and Foghorn Leghorn.
At Sunday night's performance (June 8), the Gaslight's fabled tech crew encountered a couple of unusual glitches. In the first surf scene, the waves initially didn't roll when they should have (distant surfers are represented by little cardboard cutouts far upstage). Earlier, when Melvin was supposed to be mildly electrocuted by a gizmo, Yarema found himself convulsing without help from the lighting and sound booths. "Wow, no sound effects!" he shouted.
The post-show olio is a revue of 1980s pop hits. Aside from the three female performers dressed up in cheerleader outfits à la one-hit wonder Toni Basil for "Mickey," it's largely a tribute to tights, leg warmers and poofy hair. Yet somehow, despite good impersonations of Boy George by Todd Thompson and Cyndi Lauper by Deborah Klingenfus, it all sounds suspiciously like stuff from the 1950s. Could that be because of the piano-oriented arrangements by Linda Ackermann for her crack three-piece Gaslight Band?
Oh, well. If you go to Gaslight looking for authenticity, you're completely missing the point. Dude.