Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: Damn You Katdashians!

By Michael Block

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely heard of the family that has not only broken the internet but destroyed television as we know it. The family with no talent, the Kardashians, have found a home in Times Square in a parody musical that has started a firestorm of controversy. But we'll get to that later.  From the team that brought you the occasionally mildly funny Bayside the Musical and Full House the Musical bring you Katdashians: Break the Musical. The parody illogically combines the reality moguls with Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats. Why? Probably because you can replace the r with a t to make Kat.
With book and lyrics, and some music, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith, Katdashians is a musical romp inspired by America’s least favorite family, the Kardashians. Only they are portrayed as anthropomorphic cats. Loosely paralleling the story of Cats, Katdashians follows Kim Kat, Khloe Kat, Kourtney Kat, Kris Kat, Kylie Kat, Kendall Kat, oh and Bruce/Catlyn Jenner as they try to selfie their way to the top. Sound absolutely ridiculous? It is. Those voices. The painfully drawn out words. The obsession with fame, selfies, and themselves. The Kardashians are given the parody treatment to call attention to just how asinine the Kardashian empire truly is. So why does Katdashians work? It's because the Kardashians are already a walking parody. All Bob and Tobly McSmith had to do was insert the absurdity that is the lexicon of the family and it's ridiculously stupid funny. And by borrowing the plot of Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical allows them a structure to finally work off of. Yes, Cats is not the most successful book musical but it sure beats the other attempts of plot in the parody musicals from the duo. The jokes write themselves. Literally. Many of the lines they implement are words that actually came out of these people’s mouths. Kudos to dramaturg and Kardashian expert Wesley Flash for helping to capture the essence of these pop culuture figures. As far as the musical material goes, the best moments come when borrowing others music. From Sir ALW to Hamilton to Mariah to Madonna to The Book of Mormon to Destiny's Child, the McSmiths took and tweaked a lot. Did they have a through line to work in tandem? Not really. But when the audience can recognize the tune and hear the parody, the laughs come naturally. The completely originally numbers? They lack that spark.
There's absolutely no denying this is most talented company and strongest spoof material the McSmiths have assembled. There was not a single weak cat in the litter. The Kardashians in reality have a leader. And that leader is Miss Kim. As Kim, Carmen Mendoza played up the beauty and the vapid brain the real life Kim has. Between changing her look to her obsession with fame, Mendoza found funny in the bland persona. As the Kelly and Michelle to her Beyonce, Elliott Brooks as Khloe and Bridget Kennedy as Kourtney often stole the show. Brooks dominated when she would do anything to be noticed. Brooks took those one-liners and gave them life. Kennedy may be one of the best dead-pan comedians out there. Being able to literally not bring expression with the whacky material takes great skill. As the momager Kris, Bailey Nolan didn’t have the best material comparatively, forcing her to the back. As the baby Kats, Viva Soudan and Ariel Ash as the indistinguishable Kylie and Kendall respectively were a perfect tandem. And mirroring Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer was epic. But the real star of the show was the incomparable Peter Smith as Bruce/Catlyn. If there’s a performer who needs to be a household name, it’s Peter Smith. Smith not only has impeccable comic timing, the character study was spot on, bringing infinite heart, compassion, and joy. “Meowmory” was a stunning eleven o’clock number.
Director John Duff was granted a gift with this parody. Duff guided his company and creative team to find the humor and deliver. The homework was done and it was done well. The choreography from Viva Soudan provided all the twerk you could handle in one night. She knew that the most important asset was the “kat ass” and showcased it whenever possible. Mimicking some Cats choreography while blending it with grinding realness, Soudan’s choreography was energetic. The costumes are literally the best. Designed by Baily Nolan, the costumes blended the character with cat seamlessly. This was the easiest set to create with trash and it actually looked good. All you need is trash! And whoever thought up the light-up iPhone cases gets infinite Twitter likes.
I will admit, I was skeptical when this project was announced. It sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. But that’s who these people are. They are ripe for the parody. Bob and Tobly McSmith figured out what makes a parody work. Katdashians: Break the Musical works. Let’s just hope they’re allowed to keep everything they put in. Simply by the nature of the project, the McSmiths and company may be able to borrow another thing from Cats. Katdashians will be here, "now and forever".