Imagine being trapped in a tiny room full of people who cannot sing but insist on doing so anyway (at the top of their lungs!), and you'll understand my discomfort while confronting Desert Stages' Suds last month. This is one of those musical revues and they are legion that strings together a bunch of old pop songs (in this case, famous and generally annoying ones from the 1960s) to tell a story. Here, that story is about a woman who works in a Laundromat and whose boyfriend has just dumped her. She's visited by a trio of cheeky Central Casting angels who've been sent to thwart her suicide and to join her in singing snippets from four dozen Billboard hits from the early '60s.
This steaming pile of Suds is in need of a stain remover. The old guy on my left ran for the door halfway through Act One, taking both his hearing aids with him. You know you're in for a bad night of musical theater when the deaf man departs, but could I have counted on a musical starring a girl with no vocal range or stage presence? Not until I beheld Anny Franklin, whose vocal prowess is not unlike my own: nonexistent. The difference between me and Miss Franklin is that I do not stand up before groups of people who are wedged behind wee cafe tables and belt out songs better sung by, well, people who can actually sing. Franklin wiggles and coos and occasionally hits a true note, but mostly she just emulates a slightly-better-than-average karaoke singer with a penchant for Bacharach/David medleys.
She's supported by Chrystalle Reed and Myles Vann, who spend the evening trying to out-amateur each other, and Angela Yates, a beguiling performer who has the common sense to appear embarrassed to be seen alongside the other three although mortification doesn't enhance her performance or this production in any way.
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But who am I? The audience (with the exception of my hearing-impaired neighbor) appeared to be having a blast. This show, originally scheduled for a short run late last summer, has been playing ever since to sold-out houses, because apparently local theatergoers don't require that their musicals be sung on key or danced with any grace or precision.
Buy why? At intermission in the lobby, I cornered the loudly attired couple who'd been seated in front of me, laughing and clapping, and demanded to know what they found so amusing about this leaden musical.
"Oh, those girls are so cute!" the female half of the couple bellowed at me in an accent that said I'm visiting from Hoboken; my father, rest his soul, worked the garment district for 40 years; at home I have a brisket in the oven. Her male companion had his own grammatically incorrect idea about why Suds was fun to watch: "We like it because we remember all them songs from when we was young."
Apparently, cute girls and nostalgia are more important than vocal pitch and acting talent, and are enough to keep a show running for a half-year when it should have been shut down immediately following its debut performance. Once the performance of Suds I attended finally sputtered to a close, I was able to flee although not before running a musical theater gauntlet of sorts. Among Desert Stages' more annoying traditions is posting its cast members like sentries at the exit door, so that one must file past them while making one's escape. As I rushed past the Suds cast, I grabbed Yates' hand and squeezed it, hoping to telegraph the message "I know you tried; maybe one day I'll see you in something that doesn't suck." In any case, I can't imagine I'll see her or anyone else in something I liked less than this limp, careworn musicale, which will probably still be playing this time next year.