Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: A Messy "Full House" Parody

Everywhere you look, there's a cheap joke (cheap joke) and a groan from beside you. Ok that's not really how the "Full House" theme song goes but it pretty much sums up the mixed bag known as Full House the Musical. Written by parody scribes Bob and Tobly McSmith, Full House the Musical follows the Tanner family from everyone's favorite 90s TGIF sitcom.
Once again returning to the 90s after the parodies of “Saved By the Bell”, “Showgirls”, and the always ill-timed JonBonet Ramsay, Full House the Musical doesn't so much have a plot that drives the show but features snips and bits of character-centric moments inspired by the titular tv show. For those who may not know the premise of the original sitcom, "Full House" followed widower Danny Tanner and his three young girls, DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle, as he tries to raise them with the help of best friend Joey Gladstone and brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis. The series, which ran on ABC for eight seasons, is a staple in American pop culture. The series spawned and boosted the careers of Bob Saget, John Stamos, and the infamous Olsen twins. Bob and Tobly McSmith were granted such rich material to work from but how they executed was telling. The comedy has natural jokes built in ripe for a parody, but what the exact goal of the spoof was was lost due to the inconsistencies of the writing. To their credit, Full House the Musical is much improved from their previous productions. This time they honored the decade a little more in the music. While much of the sound had shades of the 80s, homage to the music of the time was paid. For example in the lively "Walk Around the Table" wedding song, referencing the infamous wedding episode, arranger Assaf Gleizner dropped "Miserlou", a song included in "Pulp Fiction", into the orchestrations. Even using the theme song in the score was a bright spot. The strongest moment though of the musical marriage and "Full House" references was using an Alanis Morissette tuner as Mr. Woodchuck's pining song to Joey. For those who may not know, there were widespread rumors that the Morissette hit “Ironic” was written about Joey Gladstone, Dave Coulier. This showcased McSmith's strength as comic writers. But it all gets thrown away with the illogical placement of the melody to "Defying Gravity", a reference that has no business making any appearance in a 90s related musical. Wicked the musical hasn’t been invented yet.
As far as the pop culture sprinkles in the text, they came quite often and when you picked up on them they worked. But again, some just made little sense. These came with the unclear balance of character versus actor. With no rhyme or reason, the "Full House" characters would jump from on camera alter ego to real life persona. The device that was the closest semblance of plot involved the Olsen Twin character losing her memory after being thrown from a horse, one of the most infamous moments of the series. Her memory loss makes the rest of the characters lose their identity falling into their actor persona, primarily Danny Tanner turning into Bob Saget. But when the show starts and the character is not referenced as Michelle but Mary Kate and Ashley, the purpose is dazed and confused. Reworking the first act and waiting and placing the duality of Michelle until she literally feels like two people would be a much stronger choice and aid in finding a plot. Truths in comedy prove great writing. Additionally, removing the "and" and calling her Mary Kate Ashley would honor the bizarre credits that the TV show creators did to make audiences think it was a singular actor playing Michelle. It felt odd to have Aunt Becky refer to Lori Loughlin in her song and even more odd for DJ to sing about a Kirk Cameron poster in the overall unsavory and vile sisters kissing song. The song felt entirely misplaced as this was never something the source material ever approached. When it came to shock value, the McSmiths were unafraid of pushing the boundaries. But gross out humor should be earned. Mr. Woodchuck and Mr. Bear are iconic to "Full House". Did we really need to watch them have puppet sex? Sure it was funny at first but certainly went too far.
It's inevitable to not be able to include all the material and references from the source show but there were certainly missed opportunities. The McSmiths never referenced DJ's dream boyfriend Steve. Next to Cory and Tapanga, DJ and Steve were almost the greatest teen couple of the 1990s. You left the theater wondering, "Where was Steve?" But nothing was more of a shameful missed opportunity than the use of everyone's least favorite neighbor Kimmy Gibler. Not only did Seth Blum completely miss the mark on the impression and characterization, it was nothing but screaming. For those who caught Bayside the Musical, it was the identical horrid bit that involved Tori. The random appearances and constant obsession of the adult men was spot on but if Kimmy needed to be a guy in drag, it needed to be someone tall, lanky, and awkward. You needed to know it was Kimmy without a drop of dialogue. When it came to future versions of the characters, the McSmiths almost nailed it. Bob Sagat was a dirty man. John Stamos was an Oikos fanatic. The Olsen twins were bohemian trolls. Jodie Sweetin was a meth head. But Candice Cameron (Bure) was never a slut as written but actually the second coming of Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Lack of strong material doesn’t mean performances won’t be fun. Internet gossip mogul Perez Hilton took on the role of Danny Tanner. Hilton is no Bob Saget but he sure tries real hard. Hilton may have been better suited to play Joey. Hilton gave it his all when he transformed into the curse-o-matic Saget but his believability as Danny Tanner was not there. Bridgett Russell Kennedy is perfect as Aunt Becky. Kennedy had all the qualities of Rebecca Donaldson and Lori Loughlin. Kennedy was instantly recognizable in the role. Her hair even sat exactly like Loughlin’s. John Duff as the studly Uncle Jesse showcased his impressive skills as a triple threat. Duff has a pitch-perfect voice and a natural charm that translated to the Stamos persona. Seth Blum as Joey Gladstone had his moments. When he captured the signature Joey bits from the series, that’s when Blum was on top. But when he strayed, keeping a giant grin on his face, Blum was lost. But nothing was more painful than Blum’s portrayal of Kimmy Gibler. It’s ironic that the Olsen twins broke out to be the superstars they turned out to be because Marshall Louise as Michelle/Mary Kate and Ashley is a superstar. Louise’s characterization was incredible. Her petite stature combined with the way she carried herself on stage made you believe that she was never more than nine years old. Even when she transformed into Boho Olsen, Louise was perfect. Actors are replaceable but finding someone as dynamic and flawless as Marshall Louise for Michelle is impossible.
Full House the Musical did something that is usually a scary sight. The writers directed their own work. But to make it a bit muddier, choreographer Jason Wise played director as well. While you may not have been able to tell who had a part in what, it was clear that there were many visions present, lacking cohesiveness. With comedy, having an outside director could have been of great aid to be the litmus test of material. Much of the material needed to be placed outside with the trash. When it came to choreography, Wise shined. Wise was able to make the movers look like dancers. The choreography blended the jokey nature of the world with clean routines. Bryant Hartlett’s set was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. Sure, recreating the iconic Tanner house was never going to be in the cards but having some semblance of resemblance was crucial.
Full House the Musical is by no means perfect. But Full House the Musical will make you laugh and get nostalgic and eager for the sequel series on Netflix. If Full House the Musical wants to have a long run and capitalize on that series, Bob and Tobly McSmith have some cleaning up to do. Thankfully Danny Tanner is stocked up with cleaning supplies.