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Les Miserables (Not That One) at Mesa's New Silver Star Playhouse

Not the Mesa cast of Les Miserables
Not the Mesa cast of Les Miserables
courtesy of Silver Star Playhouse

The setup: There's a lot of backstory here. Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre went out of business last year, and a venerable, family-friendly Salt Lake City (well, Murray) company, Desert Star Playhouse, took over the cavernous space at Brown and Higley roads to launch a metro Phoenix branch of their silly, fast-casual-dining-optional live stage and screen parodies: Legally Brunette, My Big Fat Utah Wedding (the longest-running play in the state's history), Kicking the Hobbit: Bored of the Rings -- you get the idea. Silver Star Playhouse's inaugural production, A Christmas Carol Part 2: A Dickens of a Christmas, opened in November 2012.

Les Miserables, described as "a revolutionary comedy," is the local troupe's second show, and it runs another week and a half it's been extended through Saturday, March 2. Butch Cassidy & the SunBurnt Kid takes the stage Thursday, March 14.

See also: - Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray Becomes a Play from Desert Rose Theatre - Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps Is Gut-Busting Farce from Arizona Theatre Company - Head: The Musical is Pure, Horrifying Joy at Soul Invictus

Most of the show titles make the spoofy aspect obvious, and so I was curious about why Les Miserables lacks only an accent mark to precisely match Victor Hugo's novel, the worldwide musical spectacular, and the recent film of the play. When I looked at the Utah company's site, I was further confused, because the show was originally called Less Miserable(s?), with a super-cute logotype that even non-proofreaders (and, theoretically, Arizonans) could understand.

Then a little bird told me that a PR person, in a somewhat industry-rare fit of meticulous orthography, "fixed" the title, and the "error" was discovered too late to change it. You know what? Now that the movie has opened, I think it's just as well. Though the first title might have gone cheerfully over most people's heads, Silver Star's audience base probably isn't going to think they're seeing the Lay Miz, and sometime in the last week, Desert Star's site has updated their show's title to match. The execution: So here's the deal -- forget everything you might have known about Broadway Palm. (Except re: the gift shop. The gift shop is still terrific, and I'm dead serious.) The main room is cozier and more casual, the food service is optional and sit-down, rather than a buffet, and there's a second brief intermission after the featured production ends (enabling servers to drop off checks without being too disruptive), followed by an "olio" -- a 20-minute-ish splash of musical production numbers that showcase the performers' singing and dancing more than Les Miserables does, to be honest.

The olio is allegedly peppered with comedy and sketches between songs and resembles a TV variety show. Like Jackie Gleason or Carol Burnett? Like Lawrence Welk, my date opined. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The non-musical stuff was not funny, but the actor wearing a plush cow hat to portray a single ferocious steer and frighten a couple of actress/horses while another guy sang "Ghost Riders in the Sky" quite well was actually pretty darn good, even though (or perhaps because) it was all a bit surreal.

 

Some of the Mesa cast of Les Miserables
Some of the Mesa cast of Les Miserables
courtesy of Silver Star Playhouse

Back to Les Miserables. If you're fond of MAD magazine's parodies, this will be familiar and kind of fun for you. The lyrics of several popular musical-theater numbers (not just the score of Les Mis) have been altered to poke fun at the genre itself, among other things. The acting style is melodramatic, presentational, and full of broad comedy and terrible jokes.

Eight hard-working performers play all the roles. Carson Saline (Marius), who also choreographed, has infectious energy, and Rebecca Linton (Fantine) is a mistress of physical comedy, especially after her character is dead. (Oh . . . spoiler alert.) Lauren Bailey, who plays Eponine, brightens up each scene in which she appears with her distinctively expressive face.

The costumes are cute and helpful, and the set is serviceable, including a very real-looking guillotine that, unfortunately, does not get used. (Not that I advocate killing actors, though I can't say it's never crossed my mind.) Terrible sound and lighting (even when they aren't supposed to be terrible for comic effect) shoot a lot of the good stuff in the foot, however.

This isn't the place to review the food, but I would like to point out that you don't have to put a lahvosh pizza on a pizza stand to cool it off. In fact, leaving a lahvosh pizza in its pan and placing it over a candle would barely keep it warm enough to eat. And it's not Murray, Utah, so there is alcohol! Yay.

The verdict: A high cheesiness level meets a super-sweet cast, staff, and audience to make dinner theater at Silver Star about as tolerable as it gets. Though the pacing can be draggy, so can the brains of us mid-life and older patrons, and the evening nevertheless dispatches itself with alacrity, unlike those sometimes glacial experiences at other places.

I have my fingers crossed that the company can hold on to and build Broadway Palm's old audience and be a good citizen of the arts community. They definitely offer something that no one else in the Valley routinely does.

You should know that there are no Sunday performances and evening curtain times are almost pathologically early. So eat there or eat after, unless you never eat after 6 p.m. anyway.

Silver Star Playhouse's Les Miserables continues through Saturday, February 23, at 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. Tickets are $9.95 to $17.95 and do not include refreshments; call 480-325-6700 or try the most annoying online box office ever.

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The Palms Theatre

5247 E. Brown Road
Mesa, AZ 85205

480-924-6260

thepalmstheatre.com


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