What Do You Get When You Cross 'Making the Band' with KOOL 108?
Nothing gets the heart pumping like a hearty grudge, though decades-long enmity has proven to be less therapeutic for the soul. Someone could have shared this wisdom with a few of the characters in Penumbra's Get Ready, but it's all the better they didn't find out. Otherwise, we might have gone without this ebullient and hilarious musical.
Most of the action takes place in a rundown dance studio owned by a man named Knobby Coles. The hoofer (played by James Craven) takes the stage to a stride piano tune, and performs his character's morning routine with an old-school hipster's panache. It turns out that '60s R&B combo the Doves have just scored an unexpected hit (the play takes place in the 1980s). Eager to get back on the road, they plan to convene at Knobby's to sharpen the old stage moves.
Predictably, there's trouble. Johnson (Benny S. Cannon), Bunch (T. Mychael Rambo), Frankie (Dennis W. Spears), and Vernon (Shawn Hamilton) are all on board—though with all the squabbling that comes from being stuck in a group with four other weirdoes for decades. But lead singer Roscoe (J.D. Steele) has other plans. He's signed a management contract with his lethal wife, Eva (Jamecia Bennett), and plans to go solo.
Many of the best scenes involve the guys just hanging out. Rambo spends much of his time sitting in the corner eating, his face folding into a massively appreciative smile when one of the guys scores a zinger on another. The raspy-voiced Spears, wearing an eye patch, gets the best line of the night: "Shit! Bitch got my eye!" (Admittedly, it's all about context.)
But the real draw here is the music. Sometimes it feels as though there isn't enough of it: At one point during the second act, more than 20 minutes go by without a tune. But when musical director Sanford Moore locks in his three-man band, this show is thrilling. The men manage textured, Temptations-worthy harmonies, and Bennett intermixes strong, smoky blues numbers.
For the (happy) ending, the Doves launch into a concert in full costume, and it wipes away the pale memories of PBS pledge-drive nostalgia shows. They perform their imaginary hit "Flirt," tugging at their shirt cuffs and peering seductively into the audience (Austene Van handles choreography). Then they're joined by Bennett for an Aretha-style "Heard It Through the Grapevine." KOOL 108 would be shrewd to buy these gentlemen a few more sequined suits and send them out this summer to a casino ballroom near you.
I'll freely admit that my memories of Little Shop of Horrors are pretty much limited to Steve Martin wielding a dental drill in the 1986 film. But Ten Thousand Things' current production of the stage musical sinks the drill deeper in order to hit a nerve.
I passed though security at the women's jail (I just knew I was going to type those words sooner or later) and discovered an entirely unexpected staging (paying patrions can catch it at the Opera Center). In addition to playing nebbish Seymour, Jim Lichtscheidl tackles his mutant creation Audrey Two, the Venus Flytrap that commences to consume a good deal of the cast and, eventually, the world.
Lichtscheidl moves from frantic to ravenous as he navigates between the characters: He plays the plant by sticking his hand through a metal ring and moving it like a puppet. Kate Eifrig finds a pained vulnerability in the part of lovely, tragic Audrey. Her sweet "Suddenly Seymour," sung over two-person orchestration, balances the show's camp sensibilities.
Awful boyfriend Orin (Luverne Seifert) isn't all laughs, either. His unabated malice helps make this a story of consumption, exploitation, and abuse (what the hell; let's add co-dependence). In the end, brutal Orin gives the female prisoners at this pro bono show their own heaping portion of raw meat; like Audrey Two, they ate it up.
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