REVIEW: Whack! (Gorilla Tango)

“Whack!” needs work to get its licks in

 

Gorilla Tango Theatre presents:

Whack! The Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan Story

written and directed by Kelly Williams
thru February 25th (more info)

review by Paige Listerud

Just what is it with our culture’s renewed fascination about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan? The current musical production on at Gorilla Tango Theatre is just the tip of the iceberg. A rock opera about their infamous 1994 Olympic rivalry premiered in Portland in 2008 and another production is scheduled for this year in Los Angeles; in 2008, then-candidate Obama told the press he would not “pull a Tonya Harding” on Hilary Clinton in the run up to the Democratic Convention; and the phrase quickly became used by Dem insiders to forecast Hilary’s options pursuing the presidential nomination.

Who would have guessed the revival of a 15 year-old, nearly forgotten struggle for Olympic gold?

On the other hand, as the opening number, “Bitches On Ice,” would suggest, there’s a certain eternal appeal to dueling women in dainty outfits. The audience wants to see a catfight between two aspiring ice princesses precisely because they’re suppose to be polite little ladies. Writer and director Kelly Williams further exploits the (presumed) class differences between Nancy and Tonya in her new show, Whack! The Tony Harding & Nancy Kerrigan Story, a Karaoke Musicalabout which much could be deconstructed.

But first, the lyricists for Whack! are some very clever people. In fact, the wittiness in the songs far outshines the dialogue, especially at the start. If there’s a rewrite in this show’s future, let it sharpen up spoken lines and leave jaunty works like “Majorsubcutaneousepiduralhematoma” well enough alone. Of course, it helps that they’ve subversively set the lyrics to the Disney movie music canon, so that shiny, happy crowd-pleasers like “Be My Guest” get transformed to “I Love Breasts”—an easy improvement over the original.

It’s the run-up to the Lillehammer Olympics. According to Whack!’s storyline, Nancy Kerrigan (Leslie Nesbitt) is nothing other than an evil skating genius, planning to use her Olympic gold victory to establish (or is that re-establish?) WASP dominance. “Mother, how would you feel if all of Asia was trying to ruin my life?” Nancy says, referring to Michele Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Oksana Baiul. Never mind that two of the above are Asian-American competitors. She’s not about to let white trash Tonya Harding (Cassandra Cushman) keep her from total white upper middle class victory. For her part, Tonya is just striving to lift herself out of the depths of her trailer park existence.

Both characters would be nothing without their mothers–Nancy’s Blind Mom, played hilariously by Carry Bain, and Tonya’s Drunk Momma (Natalie Kossar ) form the perfect pair of bookends to their emotionally deformed daughters. Kossar takes some time to warm up to her role, but once there she slays with lines like, “Make Momma a pizza,” and “Shh! You’ll scare the whiskey away.”

The same could be said of the rest of the cast, which takes some time to get there, too. One thing about rowdy, schlock musical comedies: not beginning with high energy is death to the production. Hopefully, that flaw will be rectified in the course of the run, because once fired up, the show is much funnier. Spiro Zafiropoulos, as Tonya’s ex-husband-live-in-boyfriend, Jeff Gillooly, shows the kind of professional steadiness that the rest of the conspiracy against Nancy could learn from. But he can’t bring the plot to wicked fulfillment all by himself.

As for Nesbit and Cushman, each takes the stage well alone, whether envisioning world domination or plaintively wishing to get out from under a drunken parent’s domination. But once onstage together, the sparks don’t fly equal to expectations that have been built up in the audience. Since this is a musical comedy, not a history lesson, it’s a little astonishing that more liberties aren’t taken with their exchanges. In other words, go wild, ladies. This is what we’ve paid our tickets for.

As for the class differences that Williams expounds on and exploits between Tonya and Nancy, I hope that by now most people are aware that the real Nancy Kerrigan comes from an equally blue-collar background. It’s a different tale to tell, two blue-collar girls both engaging in an aspirational struggle–rather than setting up yet another “upper class vs. blue collar” dynamic. Perhaps it all depends on where you want to get your comedy.

Rating: ★½

Gorilla Tango Theatre: January 2010 schedule

whack1

Leslie Nesbit as Nancy Kerrigan and Cassie Cushman as Tonya Harding in WHACK!


January 2010 Calendar Listings for Gorilla Tango:

Mark & Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special is a satire based on TV’s self-proclaimed counseling gurus and the dysfunctional American family. Will Mark & Laura’s volatile relationship get in the way of their primetime debut or will Christmas be officially over?    Produced by Ryan McChesney.

Wednesdays at 8pm, December 2, 2009 – January 20, 2010 (no performances Dec. 23 & 30, 2009). Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here.


Give Us Money – Every Monday night in January, GIVE US MONEY will present the 23rd hour of the 24 hour telethon raising money for various causes such as: Prevention of 2012, Douchebag Syndrome, Make the McRib Permanent, and Plasma TV for Prison Inmates. Each week will feature different talent acts, and your hosts will take you through an hour of pure telethon. So stop by and show your support, and make sure to Give Us Money.  Produced by Jenny Staben. More info here

Mondays at 8pm, January 4 – 25, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R.


GRAY AREAS: Comedy, Music or Neither is a scripted experimental two-person comedic exploration of music. In terms of genre, style, and approach, there are no restrictions or boundaries; the only goal is to perform songs that can hold their weight both comedically and musically. Expect the following: a girl, a guy, vocals, keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, violins, xylophones, plus anything a computer can recreate and more!   Produced by Joe Kwaczala and Chelsea Devantez.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 8pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here

$1,000 GTT Improv Thing

$1,000 GTT Improv Thing: Improv teams from throughout Chicago duke it out for:

  • A $1000 prize (possibly paid with one of those giant novelty checks)
  • A spot at the 2010 Chicago Improv Festival
  • A package of six Big Ass Hot Dogs (42lbs) from BigAssHotDog.com

Produced by GTT.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, January 8 – 30, 2010. Tickets are $12; Rated R. More info here


A Look Through Our Eyes

“A Look Through Our Eyes: An Experimental Production about Citizens’ Views, Struggles, Experiences and Reactions to 9/11.”  Written & Directed by Darius “T.Q.” Colquitt

Loosely based on actual interviews, “A Look Through Our Eyes“ steps into the lives of 8 individuals who were directly and indirectly affected by the 9/11 Tragedy. The Social, Economic, Religious, Mental and Generational Differences of the world are highlighted in this production, filled with thought-provokingly real points-of-view on a subject that most are afraid to discuss. Produced by Nu Xpression Theatrics.

Friday, January 8 and Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10pm and Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 6pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here


Improvised Simpsons: Television’s most beloved animated family comes to life on stage! Anything can happen in the town of Springfield, especially when there isn’t a script. The performance mixes long-form improvisation with classic characters from the show, new locations and situations, and audience suggestions.  Produced by Jonathan Silver.

Saturdays at 11:30pm, January 9 – 30, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


Sketch & Sniff: We sketched, now you sniff! Don’t miss SKETCH AND SNIFF if you enjoy watching awkward relationships unfold! Glimpses into romances, bromances, dysfunctional family moments, and uncomfortable office situations are just a few comic gems that S&S has to offer. Don’t miss out on this aromatic opportunity.  Produced by Derick Lengwenus.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


WHACK! The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Story, A Karaoke Musical: From the creators of the Tabloid Musical Series (including the Mary Kay Letourneau and Amy Fisher karaoke musicals) comes this delightful tale, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver! Featuring tunes in the style of Disney, WHACK! delves deep behind the scenes to discover what REALLY lead up to the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Tonya Harding – Crazy Psycho or Underestimated Heroine? Nancy Kerrigan – Perfect Princess or Evil Genius? You decide.

Produced by Gorilla Tango Theatre.

Thursdays at 9:30pm, January 21 – February 25, 2010. Tickets are $15; Rated R. More info here

Picture at top of this posting is from Whack!  See more pictures by clicking on each of the numbers: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Real Bro’s of DuPage County takes you on a journey of the Bro mind. From outrageous choices in clothing, to relationships and borderline sociopathy, Real Bro’s will knock your socks off with our roofie brand of comedy!   Produced by Christian Weber

Saturdays at 10pm, January 23 & 30, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


All photos except "QueenNancy" by Kelly Williams; "Queen Nancy" by Bryan Cohen.