Debbie Does Phoenix

Debbie Does Dallas is coming to town, but her prospective admirers can leave their raincoats at home. The musical version of this infamous blue movie is not so naughty that it might attract the vice squad -- although the recently formed Artists' Theatre Project is hoping the show's notorious name will draw someone.

In an age where every cheesy '70s movie musical is making its way to the stage, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical is almost an inevitability. And who better to produce a faux-porno musical than a smallish company that wants a little attention? Artists' Theatre Project is, according to its official bio, "a collaborative of artists; musicians, actors, painters, directors, dancers, singers, photographers, and graphic designers, who are all trying to bring something artistic, meaningful and even spiritually moving to theatergoers in the Valley."

They've shelved the "spiritually moving" just long enough to, er, mount Debbie, a spoofy tuner based on the 1978 movie starring Bambi Woods. Like the infamous film, the stage version concerns a small-town girl trying like mad to get ahead. Literally. It's Debbie's dream to land a job as a Dallas Cowgirl, but her boring parents won't lend her car fare for a trip to Texas where auditions are taking place. Looking for some quick cash, Deb and her gal pals start a neighborhood errands service that offers more than just pickup and delivery -- nudge, nudge.

"It's all pretty funny," says David Salcido, whose official Artists' Theatre title is Master of Hoopla and Revels. "We knew we had to do it, because it's very cutting edge, and because you're not going to see it elsewhere. The show played on the East Coast and in Australia, but not here. We knew that doing a West Coast premiére is just a great way to kick off a new theater troupe. Then we heard the soundtrack, and that cinched it."

Despite the play's reputation, Salcido swears Debbie isn't too racy for Grandma. "In the movie, the dialogue is really cheesy, but what saves it is all the sex. In the musical, they've switched out the sex for musical numbers, so where the film went to a bedroom scene, we're breaking for song and dance."

Fans of frottage will be glad to know that while the onstage boning is bogus, Salcido says it's still awfully hot. "We're really playing with conventional stage sex and coming up with ways to do it tastefully and creatively. We want a lot of innuendo, and we want it to be as sexy as we can get it."

In this production, the music is about as real as the sex: Debbie Does Dallas travels with its own prerecorded soundtrack, provided by the producers and performed by studio musicians. "It's the karaoke version," Salcido admits. "But our actors will actually be singing."

There's a relief -- at least to those who care that Debbie is the first boobs-and-boogie musical since porn director Mark Haggard's The First Nudie Musical hit screens in 1976. Musical theater's grudge against blue movies was wasted, if Debbie's notices are to be believed. The New York Times called the show "shamelessly silly, shrewdly self-aware and proud of being naughty," and the New York Daily News thought Debbie was a "thoroughly engaging and hilarious send-up." And none of the critics seemed to mind too much that Erica Schmidt, who adapted Debbie for the stage, lifted most of the musical's dialogue straight from the film.

Then again, dialogue isn't what people come to Debbie for.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela