Theatre Britain’s Old Time Music Hall has a special kind of appeal. It transports us to the time of World War II, and entertainment that included patriotic songs, gentle ballads, and the pleasant wit of Gilbert and Sullivan. The period costumes and intriguing hair-dos, the gracious, genteel delivery of warbling, crooning and seemingly effortless dance cultivate a charming experience, not unlike hearing a song from the 1960’s that touches us with its innocence and lack of cynicism. In the fine tradition of Theatre Britain pantos, audience participation is encouraged in singalongs, and cringe-worthy gags prevail.
It is remarkable what you can infer from this show, the black suits with tails, the sumptuous dresses (designed by Barbara Cook) the childlike appreciation for the pleasure and wistfulness to be found in the world. Choreographer Jill Lightfoot masterfully manages the carefree and impressive dance numbers. The cast of 12 in this musical revue are nimble and poised, and it’s an advantage, I think, that they never resort to irony or winking at the audience. David Johnson as the host of these understated shenanigans, pounds his gavel and regales us with wonderfully corny puns and double entendres. The song choices are enjoyable. Vivid, warm, starry-eyed, unaffectedly enthusiastic.
Theatre Britain has a grand knack for communicating English culture and attitudes, and perhaps helping us appreciate the lovelier realms of nostalgia. It gives us a taste of how they endured the very real pain, confusion and loss of battle and romance. The way they sing Gilbert and Sullivan classics like “Poor Wandering One” and “I Am A Pirate King” makes wish they’d take on The Mikado or The Prates of Penzance. They want so much to help us have a splendid time, they provide us with song sheets and yes, even flirt with audience. [Of course flirted back] Bradley Gray provided a set that was both posh and welcoming, setting the tone for the entertainment. All in all, Theatre Britain has concocted a revue that is just sophisticated and informal enough to tickle and move us, deeply.
Theatre Britain presents Old Time Music Hall, playing June 24th-July 17th, 2016. Cox Playhouse, 1517 Avenue H, Plano, texas75074. 972-490-4202. theatre-britain.com
Alex and Greg have a four-year-old son named Jake. Alex wants to get Jake into an erudite school, so we find her nervously preparing his resume: writing an essay, answering questionnaires, consulting books to improve his chances. Judy is the principal of the kindergarten that Jake currently attends. She and Alex are close friends and this has several advantages. Judy knows and loves Jake, Alex and Greg, so she can coach Alex as she applies Jake to prestigious schools. During a strategy session she essentially recommends that Alex mention Jake’s (for lack of a better term) gender-fluid worldview. This sets a series of incidents in motion.
Alex and Greg are well beyond progressive. They do not mind when Jake likes to dress as a princess, say, like Cinderella. They don’t have meltdowns when Jake identifies with female characters. Alex is a bit leery about following Judy’s advice, but she’s been assured that the current trend towards diversity will work in her favor. It’s only when Jakes wishes to go trick-or-treating in female persona that the situation begins to deteriorate. Greg and Alex do not shame him, but it’s a challenging ordeal. Suddenly Jake is acting out, defiant to authority figures, showing signs of personal crisis.
Playwright Daniel Pearle has created a subtle, sharp, even fanciful at times, exploration of the intense and pervasive impact of gender, and how best to love those dearest to us. Pearle strips away layers from Alex and Greg and their marriage, and the buried, tumultuous issues left unacknowledged. A Kid Like Jake considers how certain events are shaped by the attitudes brought to them. It examines the crucible of wrestling with the expectations and constraints of those around us. Pearle takes a loaded topic (laden with pain) and handles it with grace and precision.
Jenny Ledel (Alex) Ian Ferguson (Greg) Christie Vela (Judy) Kia Boyer (Nurse)
Second Thought Theatre presents A Kid like Jake, playing June 29th-June 23rd, 2016. Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Campus. 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 752193 email@example.com 1-866-811-4111.
Psycho Beach Party : A camp comedy by Charles Busch
Stuff and nonsense. Goofy gags. Lunacy. “Psycho Beach Party” is Charles Busch’s tribute to famous beach bum surfer and hormone-crazed teen movies of the 1960’s such as Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo and Gidget, with passing homages to Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford and Slasher Films. This is relatively tame material for Busch, whose other plays include: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Die, Mommie, Die! but is nevertheless loopy, manic fun. The seeming effortlessness of flawless comedy comes crashing down when we see shows that lack timing, chemistry, tone and expose how depressing forced humor can be. I am thrilled to say this definitely not the case with Psycho Beach Comedy. Busch has a knack for twisting and infecting insipid pop genres and so does director Bruce Coleman and this acrobatic, fizzy cast. They know how to achieve the perfect balance and harmony of deadpan delivery.
Chicklet feels worse than a frog caught in a cyclone. Nature has not yet delivered her female “assets”, Surfer Guru Kanaka refuses to school her and her pathological mother doesn’t want her to have anything to do with boys. Best friend Berdine feels abandoned by Chicklet, and Star Cat is having romance problems with bleach blonde douche Marvel Ann. Silver screen icon Bettina Barnes is AWOL from the studio that is stifling her creativity, and must find a beach shack to evade the media. Bummer City.
One of the myriad delights of Charles Busch is his uncanny ability to transform cringeworthy burlap to comic gold lame’. [“Are you incognito? No, I’m Presbyterian.”] Busch also excels at celebrating the foolishness of cheesy film culture while exploiting it. Who hasn’t wanted to see a kid kick Joan Crawford’s ass? A tomboy channel Tallulah Bankhead? [Or was it Bette Davis?] A surfer dope go into unbelievably graphic detail about the mysteries of boinking? All this and more await you if you’ll merely surrender to the sublime, ridiculous bliss of Psycho Beach Party. Playing now at Theatre 3 through July 10th, 2016.
Theatre 3 presents Psycho Beach Party playing June 23rd-July 10th, 2013. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh, Street, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300. www.theatre3dallas.com