KPBS AIRDATE: April 18, 2003
Live onstage, at a theater near you — Barbie and Carmen Miranda! Well, not together. And not quite the originals. The impossibly-bodied Barbie was born in 1959 and the Brazilian fruit-wearing Bombshell died in 1955, but she’s making a drag comeback at two local theaters. Though the show at Diversionary is a Latino comedy, Carmen is done funnier in the gay musical “Trolls” at 6th @ Penn.
Trolls, according to book and lyrics writer Bill Dyer, are gay men over 40. And they’re uproarious. Here, six friends come together to celebrate the life of their recently deceased buddy, who — surprise! — died of a garden variety heart attack. They laugh, they sing, they cry, they claw each other’s eyes out and then they kiss and make up. It’s all delicious fun. The music, by Dick DeBenedictis, who’s worked with some of Broadway’s best, is generally upbeat and catchy, though those retro intros with the trite lines could go, without losing a beat; Dyer’s lyrics are much more clever in the refrains. In the title song, the guys lament their being “old and needy, sad and seedy… mean and crabby, soft and flabby.” Did I say guys? Well, there’s one transsexual in their midst, and it was a stroke of genius to cast Leigh Scarritt, whose look, with her mile-high wigs and flamboyant, skin-tight dresses, is drag paradise. Ole Kittleson’s direction and David Brannen’s choreography are a hoot. The best voices belong to La Scarritt, the youth-obsessed Tom Fitzpatrick and the returned-from-the-dead-to-be-with-his-friends Ralph Johnson. But each player has a moment, and Ed Hollingsworth gets his in the humorous “Gay Cabballeros,” which includes not only the fruity Carmen, but also the ‘sure-he’s-straight’ Ricky Martin, the Girl from Ipanema (who was a boy!) and the perils of being a gay Latino. The literary and entertainment allusions fly fast and furious; there isn’t an icon omitted, from Judy to Ethel, Betty to Barbra. It’s a 90-minute, intermissionless romp that anyone — straight or gay, old or young — can relate to in some way. “Trolls” is poignant at times, pee-your-pants funny and totally irresistible.
Now, playwright Dennis Hassell can take a lesson from that, in his over-long, overblown American premiere at Lamb’s Players Theatre. This commissioned farce, which takes a few swipes at the church institution, but champions true faith — in religion and people — goes on about an hour too long. One act or so would keep us amused by the cartoonish characters: the fresh-minted pastor and the wacko board of his new congregation. The performances are great, the bimbette Barbie and her impotent Karpet King husband look hilarious — but riotous costumes, talented actors and a cunning director deserve a better vehicle… though they ride this one for all it’s worth… and beyond.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.