May 21, 2012: Revue Review

 I’ve fallen a week behind in my blogging, and I’m determined to get caught up, today. So, please excuse a little cheating from me–like this essay, which I’ve published a couple times before in other places.

I keep driving past a big billboard near my home touting the return of Dream a Little Dream: The Nearly True Story of the Mamas and the Papas, which is one of those jukebox musicals that aggrandizes a particular pop group with a “revue” of their songs.

I won’t be seeing this production. I swore off jukebox musicals a couple of years ago after being traumatized by I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett—a production bereft of torpedo bras and eye glitter but still one of the gayest shows I’ve ever witnessed. Its all-male, relentlessly snake-hipped cast sang beautifully the songs of Mr. Bennett and flirted like mad with the women in the front row, blowing them kisses and saying things like, “Darling, my number is 555-1212, call me!” although no one believed for a moment that any of these men meant anything other than “…so I can do your highlights and scold you about that nasty rayon blouse, Girlfriend,” because these boys were such obvious Nancys that even the old ladies in the audience were rolling their eyes at these “flirtations.”

No, it’s not the cast of that Tony Bennett revue. It’s Kajagoogoo.

Like so many of these jukebox tuners, the Tony Bennett homage merely trotted out his hits, one after the other, with all the flair of a picket line. It was padded with banter so idiotic, it would have to have been smartened up tenfold to qualify as just plain stupid. I decided that the folks who sell theater tickets are cranking out these 3-D greatest hits packages with such velocity that there’s no time for clever scripting, and I crossed them off my To Do list, for good.

These K-Tel compilations come to life aren’t only progressively more cheesy with each installment, they’re also devoting themselves to less worthy subjects each time out. In a world where the music of Barry Manilow is the basis for two separate musicals, a revue inspired by the cheerful tunes of Wang Chung can’t be long in coming.

How long before we’ll be asked to line up for tickets to a collection of tunes made famous by Hall and Oates, I wonder. I can almost hear the tympanic virtual orchestra rendition of “Maneater”; can fully imagine the audience participation number that will accompany “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).” And you know there’ll be an interpretive dance of “Kiss On My List” involving tie-dyed toe shoes and requiring the patience of a Persian miniaturist to sit through.

Lest you think I’m merely riffing, consider this: in the last decade, theatergoers have been offered cabarets cobbled together from the work of ABBA, Carole King, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, and Queen. London’s West End was even host to an award-winning Madness musical called Our House. Madness! Indeed.

No musician, dead or alive, is safe. There’s Love, Janis, narrated by the wistful but still-stoned ghost of Ms. Joplin. And of course there was Jersey Boys, a Tony winner that canonized Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and has apparently docked for good inLas Vegas (where else?).

I am bitter, it’s true. Bitter and fearful—of the inevitable Bananarama musical; of opening the New York Times and seeing an ad for You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’: The Music of Leo Sayer or Too Shy! A Song Celebration of Kajagoogoo or Mm-Bop: The Hanson Songbook. Terrified of falling asleep and dreaming of Oh, Mickey!, a book musical about the misadventures of a saucy teenaged cheerleader set to the tunes of Toni Basil.

A different version of this essay was published by me in Phoenix New Times a couple of years ago, and later read by me on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

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2 Responses

  1. That photo is terrifying!

  2. You captured my sentiments perfectly in regard to the Tony Bennett review… I remember seeing it and wondering if anyone else was thinking why had such definately gay men been chosen to do this show??? It was uncomfortable in its context. I did see the Mama’s and Papa’s show the first time Phx. Theater did it and it was good. Not such why it was repeated again. I keep seeing more and more, there are not many good ideas (as in new ones) and repeating stuff works?? We should get together and write “The Karashians!The Musical!”. Or even get together at all sir?

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