BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF LEFTY AND CRABBE at The Living Room Theatre
Performed in an inventive style that owes debts to Vaudeville, the British Music Hall, silent movies and early radio, "Lefty and Crabbe" makes huge demands on its cast of eight and all prove themselves equal to the task. "Lefty and Crabbe" can be fall down funny.
Lefty (Seth Macchi) and Crabbe (Michael Hudgens) are single vaudevillians who meet by chance at an audition and become a comedy team. They perform successfully on the poverty stricken, secondary, theater circuits over years while they experience vaudeville's slow death due to the influence of a new technology (film).
Our comedy duo is discovered by talent scout Dougie Brownhouse or E.G. Swellington (Mike Ott) and offered train fare to Hollywood for an audition. With Gene (Brian Huther), their new manager the three of them sally forth. The reason there is a little trouble with character names will become clear in a minute.
"Lefty and Crabbe" has two acts, fifteen scenes, eleven musical numbers, and 44 characters, but only eight actors. This means that the six ensemble members must play 42 parts in addition to being the chorus. They pull it off excellently with the aid of wigs, hats, quick changes, dialects, an inventive yet minimal set and sterling choreography including multiple scene changes that all improbably work slicker than snot. To my mind, all members of this group are cast in lead roles.
While riding the cross-country train to LA, Crabbe meets gorgeous lounge singer Evelyn Rose (Molly Denninghoff). We learn that Evelyn is following her heart to sing in a prohibition era speakeasy. We get a hint of what may await Lefty and Crabbe in California, but the moment is allowed to pass.
The boys do get their movie audition, but life in the movies is not all they hoped. They are finally flush with money, but are working in films that do not take advantage of their special talents. Physically, Lefty is a big guy, Crabbe is more the leading man type. Movie mogul Mr. Rocksfeld (Ellen Kirk) insists they work to type. Lefty is cast in repetitive projects a la Fatty Arbuckel. Crabbe stars in action and romantic films a la early Douglas Fairbanks. The director is prototypical cartoon Mac Lloyd (Josh Gleeson) and his female star is the alluring but sensitive Lolo Carmichael (Elise Poehling).
Both our boys are successful in film, but troubled by the superficiality of it all. Old Mr. Rocksfeld wants to sign them to a five-year contract doing more of the same. The boys rebel to various degrees.
I won't ruin the resolution for you. You'll have to buy a ticket to find out how the conflict works out. This show is entertainment plus from opening to final curtain. The dialog is tight. The dances are appropriate. The songs are good. The various characterizations (many of which repeat) are distinct and funny.
Director Rusty Sneary has had a great time with this group. He was seated directly behind us in the audience and his pleasure with his creation was more than evident. The little sight gags (that you might miss) are absolutely present. A certain unification of spirit and intent holds the performance together. These people enjoy themselves on stage.
Blocking is inventive. Unnecessary movement is spare. Cues are jumped on. Scene changes are choreographed and do not distract. Musical Director Ryan McCall plays a mean piano and arranges a professional score. All of these folks can sing, dance, and hold harmonies. Choreographer Kyra Weinberger does a great job of understanding the various dance talents she has in her actors and in maximizing their effectiveness.
Playwrights Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, and Seth Macchi have put together an absolutely enjoyable evening at the theater. Dialog is tight. The jokes are funny. There are more than passable songs. Two of the authors perform. Seth is Crabbe and Brian is (or are) Gene, Tanner C, Antoine, Boris, Director, Mailman, and Writer #3. Ben has since moved on to Chicago to work and act. The overall effect is more than worth seeing.
"The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe" at the Living Room Theatre runs through June 18 Wednesdays through Fridays. Tickets are available on line at www.info@the livingroomkc.org or by telephone at 816-553-5857.
Photos courtesy of Living Room Theatre and Paul Andrews Photography