Paul Bartel's musicalization of his 1982 black comedy, Eating Raoul, is a blast. This is an excellent example of a musical theater subgenre that has dogged the stage ever since Little Shop of Horrors launched the low-budget-cult-film-as-musical craze that same year. Funny, campy, and crammed with catchy tunes and over-the-top nonsense, Eating Raoul is — despite a lukewarm response from New York audiences in 1992 — both one among many such shows and its most shining example.
The show's most winning aspect is that it is so clearly a cartoon; it doesn't attempt to either convince us that it's a comedy or to remind us that it's a spoof — a conceit that ruins the fun in so many similar shows. The songs don't ever morph into production numbers, a modest touch that keeps Nearly Naked Theatre's local première chugging along, in spite of a languid supporting cast and a flimsy production, lovingly directed by Nearly Naked kingpin Damon Dering. The whole shebang is saved, in the end, by its lead performers and by music director and bandleader Mark 4man's crack music team.
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The silly story milks laughs from murder, sex perversion, and cannibalism. Mary and Paul Bland, a square married couple who dream of one day owning a gourmet restaurant, become sex workers who kill perverts for their pocket change. They hire Raoul, a sleazy janitor with musical aspirations, to dispose of the bodies. Things, of course, go awry.
It's all nonsense, but it's nonsense held aloft by its two leads, who are a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Alaina Beauloye flashes sparkling comic timing from under a preposterous sexpot wig, and her charming naïf is truly the best thing about this production. Her acting is better than her singing, which, in a story that has her pretending to be any number of pay-for perverts, is just fine. She plays Mary as Lucy Ricardo gone wrong and sells every preposterous punch line without a single nudge or wink. Doug Loynd is splendid as her husband, Paul, a milquetoast who murders for money; his double takes and occasional ad-libs embellish an already charming performance.
Eating Raoul: The Musical
Eating Raoul continues through June 25
at Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Rd. Call 602-254-2151 or visit www.phoenixtheatre.org.
Although the leads steal the spotlight, a pair of ensemble players also briefly shine. Micah Peterson's hilarious "Momma Said," performed in Ginger Rogers drag, is one of the show's highlights, played with great glee and style. And Laura Anne Kenney's turn as Donna the Dominatrix is another standout: She bellows deliberately hackneyed lines as if they were bon mots, and manages to make a caricature into a real character — more than can be said for Cisco Saavedra, who attempts the tuner's title role.
These kicky performances aren't enough, however, and when Loynd and Beauloye aren't on stage to distract us, Raoul descends into amateur hour overacting by an ensemble that's not, in the end, up to entertaining us.