KPBS AIRDATE: March 03, 2006
So, how do you like your musicals? Oversized or manageable? Forced or funny? The Big One requires a ride up to Orange County. The snugly-entertaining one is right here at home. “The People vs. Mona” is the latest work by Jim Wann, co-creator of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” most recently reprised at Lamb’s Players Theatre. This local premiere has more plot and a lot more humor. And it’s getting a wonderful airing at San Diego State University.
The story concerns a down-home gal in “the tapped-out town” of Tippo, Georgia who’s accused of murdering her husband on their wedding night. In the rather informal courtroom, the judge is also a gospel-belting reverend, the prosecuting attorney is jealous and self-serving, and the defense lawyer falls for the defendant. A host of eccentric witnesses advances a score that ranges from country to calypso. Under Paula Kalustian’s witty direction, the production is a delight. The cast is composed primarily of the talented, soon-to-be-graduating MFA students in musical theater, with Kelly Baldwin as our homey host, surrounded by a bevy of femmes fatales: Kelsey Venter as Mona, Ryan Beattie as attorney Mavis, Jamie Kalama as the ministerial judge, and perky, pink-clad, high-haired Nicole Werner as the cheerleader-turned journalist, Tish. Omri Schein adds his comic flair to a pair of goofball witnesses, one of whom dies on the stand. All the voices are impressive, and they’re backed by a whiz-bang band, featuring banjo, steel drums and music director Terry O’Donnell on keyboards. It’s cute and clever and executed with a light, comic touch.
On the other end of the spectrum there’s “Bombay Dreams,” whose North American tour just kicked off at the Orange County Performing Arts Centre. The movie-within-a-musical was the idea of producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, king of the overblown extravaganza. Though acclaimed Indian composer A.R. Rahman created the score, it bears every Lloyd Webber trademark: an overabundance of spectacle, more showpiece than substance and one song that repeats so often you can’t get it out of your head. Here, it’s “Shakalaka Baby.” The welterweight story concerns a Bombay tour guide whose fantasy comes true when he rises from the Paradise slum to become a Bollywood superstar. Although the show makes fun of all the trite elements of Bollywood movies, it proceeds to include every one of them, with no satire, insight or sarcasm in evidence. The musical has already been through London, New York and rewrites, but this cast, which should sparkle like the ever-changing costumes, is so lackluster that the entire overblown effort falls flat, and isn’t worth a trip to anywhere.
Stay close to home and have some real fun… with high-spirited “Mona.”
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.