REVIEW: The Breakfast Club Musical (pH Theatricals)

Bouncy score gives this “Breakfast Club Musical” potential

 5 main characters of "Breakfast Club"

pH Productions presents

The Breakfast Club Musical

Directed and adapted by Jason Geis
with direction assistance from Scott Hogan
Music by
Jessica Hunt, lyrics by Jason Geis
musical direction by Jessica Hunt
At
Studio BE, Lakeview
Through April 29
(more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The archetypes of high school — The Brain … The Jock … The Princess … The Basketcase … The Criminal — surely live on in generation after generation, yet I confess I don’t understand the continuing fascination with John Hughes’ teen-angst film "The Breakfast Club." Set in Shermer High School, a fictional version of Hughes’ Northbrook alma mater, Glenbrook North, the film has led to dozens of YouTube video reenactments and two local stage productions this season alone — all from people who were surely in Pampers, or unborn, when the film premiered in 1985. Like other full casttributes, the latest homage, pH Productions’ The Breakfast Club Musical, takes its dialog and most of its humor directly from the film. The castDan Aho as Principal Vernon; Sally Anderson as Carla the Janitor; Brett Mannes as Brian Johnson, the Brain; Drew Current as Andrew Clark, the Jock; Martha Hearn as Claire Standish, the Princess; Tristan Tanner as Allison Reynolds, the Basketcase; and Matthew Gottlieb as John Bender, the Criminal; backed by a chorus — re-enacts the Saturday when five mismatched teens were unexpectedly stuck together for a day-long detention. More  fully realized than the staged version now at iO Theater, pH’s production, reportedly three years in the making, benefits from an original score of 17 songs by Jessica Hunt with lyrics by adapter and director Jason Geis. With Hunt accompanying on keyboards, this show feels like a workshop production with aspirations rather than a sketchy one-off, and as such, it deserves to be held to a higher standard.

Hunt and Geis’s bouncy pop sound fits well into the theme of the show. Songs range from "An Imperfect Place," a strong ballad sung by Bender to explain an illicitly closed door, to the campy "I’m Only a Virgin," performed by Brian when he’s caught exaggerating his conquests (and hammed to full extent by Mannes) to the lively "Bizarre" by Andy. As a lyricist, Geis is a little too apt to go for the cheap laugh. This show didn’t really need two songs about virginity, and the humor value of obscenities set to music is of the "funny once" variety. Other songs seem incomplete, such as "Come Monday," which just repeats the same line over and over again. And although the song-and-dance numbers refer to the plot, they often seem inserted rather than interwoven, like musical intervals spliced between reels of the film.

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The cohesiveness of the story may suffer a bit for anyone who’s never seen the movie. For example, the chorus adds impact to the songs but needs explaining. Who are these extra people and what are they doing there? When the full cast is on stage,Cassie Speerschneider’s choreography becomes a little cramped. Performances waver. Gottlieb, who resembles the young Marlon Brando, and the flexible-faced Mannes carry most of the show. Hearn and Current each shine in a couple of star turns, but fade when the focus isn’t directly on them. As a director, Geis needs better awareness of sightlines. It would have played better on stage, for example, for Allison to dump her purse on a desk where the audience could see it, but instead she upends it onto the floor, out of view of the back rows.

This isn’t the place for a lengthy discussion of why so many entertainment enterprises — from local troupes like this one to Broadway companies to Hollywood studios — seem bent on rehashing old movies instead of making up new stories of their own, but I like the way Mac Rogers put it in his commentary on the spate of screen-to-stage adaptations that hit Broadway a few years ago: "A musical doesn’t need to be original to be worthy, it just needs to not suck." The Breakfast Club doesn’t suck — in fact it’s quite engaging — but it doesn’t quite go far enough in re-imagining the original. There’s potential here that hasn’t yet been realized.

 

Rating: ★★½

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REVIEW: Annoyance Theatre’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

TV Classic Transfers Smoothly to the Stage

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The Annoyance Theatre presents:

The Annoyance Christmas Pageant: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

by Rankin/Bass
directed by Megan Kelleher
thru December 20th (ticket info)

review by Keith Ecker

poster I have a distinct memory of sitting in my pajamas as a boy on a brisk winter evening in Texas. The light of the television provided a mock warmth. The big networks had suspended their regular prime-time programming to honor the Christmas season. The usual annual cartoon fair flashed on the screen including the likes of Garfield and Charlie Brown, intermittently interrupted by messages from Campbell Soup and Coca-Cola, both of which wanted me to have a happy holiday and a stocked cupboard of their products.

Amid this Technicolor blend of holiday and commercial cheer were the unforgettable Rankin/Bass-produced featurettes. The most popular—amongst my household anyway—was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a strange telling of the history of Rudolph from birth to ostracization to, for all intensive purposes, canonization. The characters, like in all of the Rankin/Bass specials, appear as stiff, herky-jerky figures. That’s because the specials used stop-motion animation, a method where animators painstakingly pose figurines from shot to shot to give them the appearance of movement. Cheesy songs, a feel-good moral and a narrating snowman completed the show, which has now regularly played on television for the last 45 years.

That’s why it’s high time that the cartoon transitioned from the television and onto the stage. And thankfully the classic gets the top-notch treatment it deserves from the talented folks at The Annoyance Theatre.

For those expecting the usual adult-themed fodder of the Annoyance (the same theatre that brought us Co-Ed Prison Sluts), you will be sorely disappointed. The show is intended for children. However, those who have fond memories of the childhood classic will enjoy the staged retelling, recalling the whimsy of youth and the exuberant holiday spirit that seems to fade with age.

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The production stays true to the t.v. special with only slight adjustments. Sam the Snowman (Jason Geis) narrates the story, setting the stage for Rudolph’s birth and his unfortunate deformity—his bright, shiny red nose. Rudolph (Leslie Nesbit) tries to join the other reindeers in their reindeer games. These games are basically a training camp to teach the young calves to fly and one day join Santa’s sleigh team. Their coach (David Jennings) discovers Rudolph’s red nose, which had been concealed with a prosthetic, and bans him from practice. Meanwhile, in Santa’s workshop is Hermey (Alex DiGiacinto), an elf who doesn’t want to be an elf, but instead aspires to be a dentist. His boss, the head elf (Tim Soszko), sends him home for his disobedience.

Hermey and Rudolph meet and become fast friends. The two run away together and encounter Yukon (Collin Blackard), an arctic prospector. The three continue together on a journey, which takes them to the Island of Misfit Toys. Here they meet an assortment of outcast playthings including a jack-in-the-box unfortunately named Charlie (Tim Soszko).

Meanwhile, the Bumble (Steven Whitney), an abominable snow monster, is on the trail of the adventurers, in part because of Rudolph’s nose, which shines like a beacon. In an effort to protect his friends, Rudolph separates from the pack to find his reindeer family.

Nesbit does a wonderful job mimicking the voice of Rudolph from the televised special and brings a genuine childlike charm to the role that will certainly have children relating to the central character. Geis plays the snowman with absolute commitment. His awkward shuffling, which is meant to resemble the animation of the t.v. program, and detached, over-the-top facial expressions are subtly hilarious. Children probably won’t give it a second thought, but for the adults in the audience, his extreme jolliness is delightfully unsettling. Tahnee Lacey, who has a small role as Mrs. Claus, stands out for her unrelenting homage to the original text. She moves in stop motion, as if each second an unseen hand is adjusting her appendages.

There are a few musical numbers throughout, and it is obvious that the cast was not chosen for their vocal talents. Sounding much like a children’s choir, voices are slightly off key at times. This is forgivable, as the whole production has the intentional feel of an amateur pageant rather than a polished play. However, the lack of vocal projection is a distraction, causing the audience at times to strain to hear the performers over the piano.

Director Megan Kelleher does a nice job of maximizing the Annoyance’s tiny space. She occasionally spills the cast off the stage to create certain visual effects, such as when the heroes evade the monster by floating away on a tiny island of ice. However, there were times where the stage picture was cluttered with actors interrupting the view of the action from certain angles.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a nearly perfect holiday treat for children and adults alike. Don’t go in expecting a highly polished production. Rather, this is pure fun played out with a fancy that will bond you and your child through Christmas cheer and nostalgia.

Rating: ★★★½

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