Playbill Bunny

Salacious bio notes are the only comic relief in a catastrophic attempt at Babes in Arms

The heck with Tent City. Sheriff Joe should start sending miscreants to Stagebrush Theatre, where the Scottsdale Community Players have been doling out punishments galore these past several months. The company's latest catastrophe, a bastardization of Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms, has all the charm of a day spent in solitary confinement.

You know the story: Babes in Arms is the one about the vaudeville kids who save their own hides by putting on a show in the family barn. It was popularized in the (almost entirely re-scored) 1939 film version starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The original stage score contains some of Rodgers and Hart's best and most famous compositions – "Where or When," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Johnny One Note," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "My Funny Valentine" – offset by a cautionary tale of Commies and sex-starved postadolescents.

The Stagebrush version, thanks to some wiseacre's idea of script editing, finds much of the subtext and in fact an entire subplot excised, presumably to make room for more fifth-rate singing, appalling choreography and execrable acting. Much of this mishmash is perpetrated by a youthful and inexperienced cast, each of them so obviously miked, they looked like a gaggle of errant telemarketers.

From left, Mandy Nichols, Chad Boreen and James Asimenios treat us to an unfunny Valentine.
Laura Durant
From left, Mandy Nichols, Chad Boreen and James Asimenios treat us to an unfunny Valentine.

Shame on director Evelyn Tucker for coercing this crowd of youngsters into stomping and tripping their way through undanceable arrangements, and a pox on choreographer Relya Davidson for tainting every number with endless arm gestures straight out of a junior high marching band routine. These two have apparently directed their cast to play and sing every scene with its back to the audience, most of which inexplicably returned after intermission.

Act One ends with one character announcing, "This show is over!" but unfortunately it isn't. There's another hour to get through before we're free from the gloomy accompaniment of Irene Lopez's "live" band, which performs each and every song with south-of-the-border flare. You haven't lived until you've heard "My Funny Valentine" as a cha-cha, or until you've seen "Johnny One Note" performed – in a barn! – by glitter-covered chorus boys.

Tucker has cast her husband, Leonard, as the Sheriff, a role he plays with all the bravado of a wooden Indian. His late arrival in several scenes left his wife's clumsy cast ad-libbing like crazy; when he finally arrived, it was often without his lines. Tucker's comatose performance is rivaled only by Cara Abrams' overly enthusiastic take on Billie, a would-be musical comedy star who delivers an armload of solos, each a humdinger full of flat notes and flatfooted "dancing." Leading man James Asimenios' charms are limited to his passing resemblance to film star Ben Affleck, a point made repeatedly in the playbill.

In fact, my only real entertainment of the night was provided by that playbill, which featured cast bios jammed with gushy nonsense (Kinsey Schofield: "She'll be legal in March, loves theater, and hopes to marry Justin Timberlake") and blatant petitions for sex (Gillian Reilly: "If you're a fun and cute guy, call me!").

While the Babes in Arms cast has been trying to pick up guys, many of their colleagues have been celebrating Richard Rodgers' 100th birthday with musical revues and revivals. Stagebrush has brought us instead a crucifixion, a colorless tribute to some of the most colorful music of the last century. "Hey, kids! Let's put on a show!" indeed.

 
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