KPBS AIRDATE: July 1, 1992
There isn’t much glory at Morrissey Hall, the fictional upper-class girls’ school that’s just moved into Lamb’s Players Theatre. But there’s plenty of yelling, running, screaming, singing, whining, teasing and camping it up. It’s not surprising that this creaky little musical didn’t make it on Broadway. The plot is silly and contrived, the characters are unidimensional, the music is forgettable, the lyrics uninspired.
So what prompted the Lamb’s Players Theatre to take on this questionable project? Well, in the press kit, there’s a veritable apologia from artistic director Robert Smyth. “Why Morrissey Hall?” it begins, and you say ‘Why, indeed,’ reading on. Smyth’s four putatively good reasons come under the bold titles of Summer, which includes the budget crunch, the need for light fare, and the inimitable draw of musicals, even inferior ones.
Reason number two, Families. This is the annual Lamb’s “family show.” Which leads us to Reason Three: Youth, and highlighting local young talent. The fourth reason is Ensemble, giving wide comic berth to members of the Lamb’s stable, if that isn’t overextending a metaphor.
So there you have it. Four rationalizations for a weird theatrical choice. But God knows, Smyth put his every ounce of zaniness and creativity into it. There is more shtick per second here than you can shake ten shticks at. There’s barely a breath taken, rarely a quiet moment. Smyth has his cast of nineteen at a gallop at all times. No one walks on or off the playing space. They race, skip, trip, dart, dash or scamper. Facial expressions are enormous. Melodramatic poses and double takes abound. Everything is so far over the top, it’s in another hemisphere. My companion said it felt like a meeting of Overactors Anonymous.
But it’s cute, silly, ebullient fun. The lively, talented kids from local junior highs and high schools are a kick. Kerry Meads, as the Head Mistress, is so rigidly wound up, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth, her secretary, is so timidly bent over, they’re like twin testimonies to the national need for chiropractic.
Moving from the distaff side, Rick Meads is hilariously nerdy in his hiked-up pants and cowlick, and Eric Briner is a pretty funny schoolmarm/ pianist in drag.
The singing and dancing are high-energy, and the percussion section is a rip. Ms. Smyth and Mr. Meads provide syncopated backup in the form of tapped pencils and Tic-Tacs, banged typewriter keys and pounded desks. Divinely inspired direction.
Sounds pretty goofy, huh? It is. But it’s summer, and you’ve got a family, and there is this local talent, both youth and ensemble. Four good reasons to take the kids to Morrissey Hall, the girls’ school from hell. Oh, and one more reason. You might just get a few good laughs.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.