BWW Reviews: Bruce Kimmel's Dynomite L'IL ABNER Lights Up LACC Stage Through Tomorrow Only
Back in the 50s, the era that was innocence personified, Broadway musicals were written to entertain first. Of course, Stephen Sondheim and other more serious composers were beginning to change the face of the American musical with the goal to enlighten, but shows like Li'l Abner, with book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, lyrics by Johnny Mercer & music by Gene De Paul and based on Al Capp's 1934 comic strip, showed us the wild hillbilly lifestyle to make us laugh rather than think. Underneath the surface, to be sure, there is political satire and an uplifting message about appreciating the worth of that lesser known patch of American culture, kind of like what 60sTV audiences found in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Li'l Abner is a hoot & a holler and chock full of belly laughs, eye candy and some darn good dancin'. It's one of director Bruce Kimmel's favorite shows from that era, and he has invested quite a bit of time, energy and talent in pruning a 2 hour 40 minute show into a slick 2 hour one. Instead of a full piece orchestra, it's a jug band on hand, which works to perfection at setting the right tone. This newest production, currently playing at the Caminito Theatre of LACC is, in fact, another feather in Kimmel's hat and a triumph as well for musical director Wayne Moore. It features some lively steppin' from choreographer Kay Cole and some delightful character work from guest professional actors who combine with the student cast.
In the guest spotlight are Madison Claire Parks as the voluptuous Daisy Mae and Evan Buckley Harris as Abner. Parks is charming in any role she plays. With her sexy long and curly blonde wig, heavy makeup and skimpy costume, I almost didn't recognize her when she first came onstage. She assumes the character she is playing so well... and sings divinely. Harris is not the hunkiest Abner nor is he innocence personified, but he does have a fine voice and his handsome good looks do fit Abner's devilish egocentricity. John Massey shines as Marryin' Sam. His great comic style is put to great use throughout. Barry Pearl outdoes himself as crooked, greedy General Bullmoose. His Act II "Progress Is the Root of All Evil" is deliciously nasty and dynamically executed. Young Sami Staitman is impressively funny in two small character parts, and Sean Howard completes the guest cast as Mayor Dawgmeat in a small but strong pivotal role.
Standouts in the student company include Maureen McFadden as Mammy Yokum, that feisty, pint-sized, pipe-smoking dynamo and her mate Pappy as played by Jai Pellerin. Riley Dandy makes a sensuous Appassionata, Kristian Rasmussen is hysterically funny as Earthquake McGoon, the filthy but likable muscle boy who wants to court Daisy Mae. Moira McFadden as Evil Eye Fleagle does some fine gender bending in essaying this role and utilizes some uniquely memorable physical moves, which you must see for yourself. The performances one and all are delectably right on target. The music is bright and bubbly with memorable tunes like "Jubilation T. Cornpone", "If I Had My Druthers", "Past My Prime" and the lovely "Love in a Home". Kimmel's nonstop energetic staging'pacing and Cole's snappy choreography keep you hand-clapping and toe-tapping from start to finish.
Tesshi Nakagawa has designed a wonderful black and white set that is every inch a match for the comic strip style.
I sure as shootin' had a good ole time. So git yourself on over to Dogpatch, USA, you hear! Through this Saturday, May 24 only!
(photo credit: Michael Lamont Photography)