One of my favorite "little musicals" ever, ever, ever is Oil City Symphony. I could eat eggplant Parmigiana and watch that show for five, six days in a row and not need another diversion. You don't see Oil City produced a lot these days, maybe partly because the four original cast members all sang like birds who could alternately warble and belt and included two pianists, a drummer and two other percussionists, and the assorted abilities to play accordion, synthesizer, vibraslap, violin, saxophone, flute, and slide whistle.
But it was about high-school music geeks who'd grown up and never lost their love of performing, of having special talents, of sharing joy with an audience in a way that helps smooth over the glitches of real-life, backstage relationships. That spirit lives on, somewhat, in the three-man mini-extravaganza that is Triple Espresso, currently being presented by Actors Theatre.
Like Hugh Butternut, Buzz Maxwell, and Bobby Bean, the three guys who reunite for a very special coffeehouse evening in Triple Espresso, I think each of us has one of those friends, someone who's always coming up with an idea for a "fun" thing you could do together, something that actually sounds about as fun as oral surgery and turns out to be way different from what you expected. And sometimes the experience winds up even worse than it seemed it would be, but it all makes a great story, and somehow, next time, you're game to try again. Maybe because this impulsive lunatic is, also, always there for you.
So there's patter and humor (intentional and otherwise), a little personal friction, good music and bad, bad magic and worse, lots of Rashomon-style flashbacks to a shared lifetime of strange encounters and ill-advised professional projects, and whatever it is Bobby Bean does. (Look at the photo at left -- hell, see the show -- and see whether you can explain it.)
The second act is sort of padding, as far as I'm concerned, but I still wound up laughing and laughing as the stories and "reenactments" got weirder and weirder, which inspired a curious fascination about what might happen next that overcame any feelings of entertainment fatigue. Triple Espresso is a ton of fun and, relatively speaking, a cash cow. It's no wonder that since 1996, it's spread like the clap from its humble Minnesota roots and returned to the Herberger for not just a second engagement (it's been here before), but one that's now been extended.
Triple Espresso continues through Sunday, October 11, in Stage West at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. Tickets are
$15 to $47 [update: all tickets are now $20]; order here or call 602-252-8497.
Finally, people make a big deal about this show being really family-friendly and "clean;" I agree, so in case that's important to you, I mention it here. Have fun!