Dinner theatre is one of those ideas that makes sense in concept but which is inexplicably weird in practice. The idea of relaxing at a table, eating, having a cocktail or coffee--all this smacks of a comfy living room atmosphere for taking in a show.
And I'm sure that the actors who double as servers make bank, but I still can't help but feel sorry for them. Doing a show is hard enough. It requires concentration, believe it or not; so does waiting on a full section.
It is just strange to me that older people (predominantly dinner theatre's demographic) would be willing to shell out $40 or $50 for mediocre food and musicals which are often not a whole lot better. Maybe there's something about having many of the decisions made for you already--the limited menu, the show, the set times when things happen. Or maybe there's something to be said for planting your ass in one seat for the entire evening's entertainment--dashing from a restaurant to make a show can be traumatic.
Another positive is that sitting at a table is more conducive to conversation. Also, having more time to be sociable than is possible at a traditional theatre is a plus.
Still, my experience with Boulder's Dinner Theatre, to see their production of Shout was pretty good overall. Here's the review in full; the link above is to the Post's edited version.
“I’m just a person trapped in a woman’s body.” --Anonymous
If there were any doubt that “Shout! The Mod Musical” is a jukebox musical--that is, little more than an excuse to sing along with a selection of fun, recognizable songs brought together by only the flimsiest of storylines--the fact that the characters don’t even have names should be a dead giveaway.
Welcome to swinging London in the 1960s, where, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, women are reduced to the colors they wear: Green, Orange, Yellow, Blue and Red, each of which represents a different personality type.
Austin Powers, your table is ready. And the ladies are feeling randy, baby.
Naturally, the show is slathered top to bottom in neon-bright color, as though a unicorn snorted a troll doll cut with cotton candy then threw up an entire bag of Gummi Bears. Riffing on the miniskirt and the sickly-sweet color scheme, costume designer Linda Morken as well as scenic designer Amy Campion seem to have thoroughly enjoyed their work.
The story, such as it is, is set around a British fashion magazine called “Shout,” which purports to provide women with fashion, hair, makeup and romance advice while the gals randomly dance and sing, as people were apparently wont to do in the 1960s.
There are a number of “Laugh-In”-type comedic moments between numbers, but when they’re not singing the ladies mostly ask for advice from columnist Gwendolyn Holmes (in hilarious voiceover segments by Barb Reeves) which is invariably vapid and shallow.
When one girl is uncertain about her boyfriend, Holmes’s voice intones: “Perhaps clear up what’s in your head by clearing up what’s on your head! A new hairstyle!”
But the reason for this exercise is the music, and the fact of the matter is these women can sing.
They cover songs mostly from that peculiar subset of 1960s music that is more pop than psychedelia, more teeny-bop than ground-breaking, a largely British strain of pop-rock that, while embedded with some hints of awareness of a changing world, also largely played it safe.
This is the sugar-coated 1960s, if you will.
Boomers as well as the living will no doubt bounce along with irresistibly catchy songs like “I Only Wanna Be With You,” sung by Orange (Shelly Cox-Robie). And Ellen Kaye as Blue performs Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” with a genuine warmth, boundless charm and a killer smile.
But the big guns don’t come out until near the end of the first act when Joanie Brosseau absolutely destroys (in a good way) Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” alternately eliciting Springfield’s smoky allure as well as her raw sexual power.
That’s followed by a hilarious rendition of “Goldfinger” sung by Alicia Dunfree (Yellow, natch) but featuring the entire cast contributing various 007-type sound effects and stylized Bond-girl dancing and pistol-packing poses. Dunfree also gets to sing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” which hardly seems fair.
As Red, Julia Perrotta gets off lightly in a way. Her character is meant to be something of a dingbat, and as an actor she has tremendous comic timing, so it’s a natural fit. But we also get to see her sweet side, as well as a rich and powerful singing voice on display in “To Sir With Love.”
Accents are inconsistent at best, and the story isn’t much. But the singing is what we’re here for, and it is across-the-board wonderful.
And to be fair, the storyline does eventually get around to slagging the idiotic columnist Holmes, portraying the women standing up to crumbling societal strictures in the form of the magazine’s advice. But the creators’ claims that the show is somehow all about women redefining themselves as liberated and strong like the singers they cover are wildly overblown.
On the other hand, to see just how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality, pick up any women’s magazine at the grocery store checkout.
Better yet, don’t.