Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: "It's Alright"

Securing a place in the annals of sitcom history is not an easy task. To become an iconic show takes loveable characters, a long run, and the ability to land in syndication. In the late 80s and early 90s a little children's Saturday morning live action tv show found its way as a cult hit. That show followed a group of teens as they discovered the highs and lows of high school, all through comedy gold. That show was "Saved By the Bell". Using the characters and stories of these kids, a musical parody called Bayside the Musical was born.
Through various reiterations and currently presented by the powerhouse known as National Lampoons, Bayside the Musical takes the iconic teens of the titular high school and pokes fun at the characters, situations, and the colorful era they lived in. Written by Bob and Tobly McSmith, Bayside is a fan favorite that happens to garner enough laughs to cover up the hot mess it truly is. Parodies rely on the expected, the references that make them parody worthy. Where Bayside works is through the inside jokes for the true fans. Yes, everyone knows the main core of the source material. If you just say the names Zach Morris or Screech or AC Slater, you can identify it as "Saved by the Bell". But it's the true fans that will light up when Tori or Violet (in this version called Tori Spelling, the actress who played the role) or the summer job from hell grace the stage. But pandering for the audience laughs does not necessarily mean excellent writing. In fact, as far as parody writing, Bayside was quite weak. The biggest laughs were the expected ones. They came through the references that any writer tackling a "Saved By the Bell" parody would use. But when the McSmith’s own writing came into play, it was severely lacking. The duo blew up the iconic traits of the characters in a way that they are recognizable. The only exception to this was their interpretation of Kelly Kapowski. Kelly was the beauty of the bunch but not necessary the airhead they wrote her to be. By playing AC as the moron of the group, a trait the jock did have on the show, there was way too much dumb on stage. By being the furthest from the source, taking her out of context of this particular show, you'd have no idea who she was. By capitalizing on the other characters traits, like Screech's nerdtasticness and Jessie's infamous caffeine pill breakdown and Slater's slight homoeroticism with his preppy bestie, the characters were present yet new. The ones that didn't get the care they deserved truly affected the show as a whole. The music that the McSmiths brought to the world were toe-tapping and catchy, though many sounded nearly identical to one another. They lived in a very “Broadway Pop” world yet they could have capitalized on the time of the show by throwing in more odes to the 90s pop music. When they did though, that’s when their originality shined. Paying homage to 4 Non Blondes was one of the funniest bits on stage.
Assembling a group of musical theater actors that not only can perform but also portray these characters may be a difficult task. Fortunately, the majority of the ensemble were fantastic triple threats. The star of the show by a long shot is April Kidwell. Kidwell as Jesse Spano is perfection. SNL should be on high alert for this talent. Lorne Michaels needs to get his butt down to Theater 80 and give this girl a contract to be a new cast member. Kidwell discovers all of the quirks Elizabeth Berkley brought to Jessie Spano yet still gives her own spin. It's a true sign of parody acting. Opposite Jessie was John Duff as AC Slater. Duff nails Mario Lopez, the voice that is. If you closed your eyes and listened to him say “Hey Preppy”, you would have thought Lopez had made a cameo appearance. Duff’s various skills were showcased in all the right ways. The casting of Shamira Clark as Lisa Turtle is quite brilliant as Clark has an uncanny resemblance to Lark Voorhies. Justin Cimino has a unique take on Screech. But he seemed to light up when the real Screech, Dustin Diamond, graced the stage. And poor Dustin Diamond. Diamond, who plays himself, is such a trooper working with such thin material. Sam Harvey as Zack had quite a difficult task playing the timeout king. Harvey’s Zack lacked the charisma and charm of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, especially opposite Katie Mebane’s bizarre Kelly. Harvey seemed to have better chemistry with Duff’s Slater, though that may have been intentional due to their hilarious bromance. Seth Blum as Mr. Belding and Max and Tori, among others, offers one of most uncomfortable performances to watch. Blum seems to have no regard or respect for the writers as he continually broke character and seemed to veer away from the script, especially as Tori. Though with the McSmiths serving as directors for their own show, if that was how Blum was directed, Blum deserves no blame and the McSmiths allowed too many comedic styles into one piece. For the fans who know the show, Tori was a character brought in to replace Tiffany-Amber Thesein and Elizabeth Berkley when they left the show. Yes, she was far from Jessie and Kelly, as Tori was a motorcycle riding tom boy. But her prescience was less than a season long. For Tori to have such an impact on this show was odd, but it was Blum's beyond hazardous portrayal of the character that continually stopped the show. "Saved by the Bell" is about the six students and and so is Bayside. By stealing the focus as a supporting character was in such bad form. On the flip side, Amanda Nicholas as the other various roles did a spectacular job, being a supportive prescience that won the hearts of the audience. Her portrayal as Tori Spelling and Stacey Carosi were spot on. Nicholas was transformative in all the right ways.
As noted, Bob and Tobly McSmith took on the dual roles of writers and directors. With no outside eye to help the script, the direction and vision suffered. But yet again, laughs helped to cover this up. The choreography by Jason Wise happened to be one of the highlights of the production. Wise’s choreography was crisp and intentional. Wise seemed to have the best grasp of 90s parody in the bunch. Bryan Hartlett’s transformative scenic design transported Bayside High and the Max and Malibu Sands right to the stage. Cast members John Duff and Shamira Clark doubled as costume designers, evoking the spirit of the show and the decade seamlessly. It’s fun to laugh at the trends and fads that at one time seemed like a brilliant idea.
Nitpicking a show like Bayside the Musical may seem superfluous but with such brilliant source material, you hope that the final product is perfection. Bayside the Musical is not perfection but it is mindless entertainment that will guarantee you an escape from the mundane and many full belly laughs.