BWW Reviews: DROP DEAD! Celebrates the Hilarity of Live Theater Gone Wrong!
Organized disorder and unintended hilarity. Dropped lines and missed entrances. Forgotten props and late sound effects. Certainly those of us ever involved with producing, directing, or being in a play know how the combination of all these things can lead to a flop. Lucky for the cast of DROP DEAD! at the NoHo Arts Center, the combination of these disasters leads to hysteria and a hit comedy!
Producer Ronnie Marmo and Theatre 68 proudly present DROP DEAD! by playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore at the NoHo Art Center though June 28 with performances on Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 8:00PM, and Sunday at 3:00PM. Originally produced in 1986 Off-Broadway and then in Los Angeles (1991), the show was a smashing success and a hysterical farce, playing to sold out houses. The same will no doubt be said of the Theatre 68 production.
Aside from all the hilarity, what makes this production so special is Marmo and Theatre 68 are elated to be presenting it for the first time since its original Los Angeles premiere 23 years ago. Landing playwright Van Zandt as the director was the icing on the cake as his brilliant understanding of the characters and timing needed to pull off the sight gags resonates from within his body, mind and soul.
Like other comedies such as Noises Off and Play On, DROP DEAD! centers on the actors, director, producer and stage manager as they attempt to present a murder mystery with disastrous results. . Thus many of the actors play both a "real" person and a character in the play-within-a-play. The cast is made up of desperate actors attempting to revive their careers in a potboiler murder mystery called DROP DEAD! directed by "Wonder Child of the Broadway Stage" Victor Le Pewe (Cy Creamer). As everything that could go wrong does go wrong on opening night, several actors are murdered for real, causing the remaining thespians to literally freak out onstage, running to and fro and all around in an attempt to save the show and their careers, solve the mystery, and stay alive long enough to receive their much-desired curtain calls.
Each actor is perfectly cast and chews the scenery with gusto throughout the play. Cy Creamer as Victor Le Pewe directs DROP DEAD! from within the audience, one time sitting beside me and cursing under his breath until it was time for him to explode against the stupidity he is witnessing onstage. This leads to him to don a dress and take on the role of Lady Barrington (Mews Small) after he fires the deaf actress. Of course on opening night, she decides to still make her grand entrance and appears onstage with him playing her role!
Timothy Alonzo plays the stage manager and director's assistant Phillip with totally joy, celebrating the relationship her enjoys off stage as well as onstage with Le Pewe. Alonso must frequently provide the "snow" which must appear when a door is opened or must fall in the upstage window. The Styrofoam "snow" crunches under the actors' feet as the play goes on, something even they react to each time it happens. During intermission, Alonso was responsible for cleaning up the mess left during the Act 1 dress rehearsal and was so enjoying dancing to the upbeat music as he cleaned, I decided to get up and dance with him and others filed out of the theater!
Eddie Liu plays Chaz Looney, the actor playing Drools the Butler in DROP DEAD! During dress rehearsal, Drools reads his lines from a script taped underneath the tray he carries (with nothing on it), and sports very apparent white sideburns and eyebrows. After he receives a suggestion to play the butler as a Frenchman, even though Le Pewe forbids him to do so, Liu dons a beret and loses the gray in Act 2 for opening night. Even though you could not always understand what he was saying, each line was funnier than the last!
Shelly Hacco plays gum-chewing former porn star Candy Apples who takes on the role of Penelope in DROP DEAD! thanks to her relationship with the show's producer P.G. "Piggy" Banks, played by cigar-chewing stunner Barry Brisco as the money-man desperately in need of a hit who really has no business producing a show. Thanks to Banks, Penelope appears in sexy black lingerie through most of the show, adding even more appeal to every farcical situation that comes her way. And Hacco wears it well.
DROP DEAD! lead actor Alexander is played by Brent Reynolds (Bill Doherty Jr.) in a lavender waistcoat worthy of any Shakespearean role. One his more comical ongoing gags is his inability to correctly pronounce Penelope, the name of his new, and 13th, wife. Think of any name beginning with a P and no doubt Doherty will use it during the show! When his nose gets broken onstage during dress rehearsal, he is forced to continue the scene with blood dripping and in overbearing pain. On opening night, he appears onstage with a tongue depressor taped to his nose with his eyes blackened as if it was the most natural thing to do.
And of course there has to be a diva in the show, played by Claudine Claudio as actress Mona Monet taking on the role of Alexander's bitter sister Bette. She seems to be the most serious actor in the group, but her overwhelming desire for fame clouds her ability to get along well with the other actors. So of course they are out to get her onstage, but she gives back as well as she takes!
Grey Rodriquez is DROP DEAD! playwright Alabama Miller, an ex-con who turns to drink once he realizes how his play has been bastardized by Le Pewe. To save the show, he joins the cast onstage, dressed as a choir member, announcing he is there to watch the lines. His intrusions are welcomely interrupted when Phillip tapes his mouth shut. And Mark Vasquez plays actor Dick Scorsese who plays Inspector Mounds in DROP DEAD! His only claim to fame is that his guarantees his brother Martin will be in a front row seat on opening night. But he is no actor, a fact that becomes all the more apparent as the murders keep happening.
The entire cast plays off each other so well, keeping the riotous timing in place while inserting ad libs as often as possible, keeping each performance different and totally fresh to every audience. I am sure this is particularly true during the many melodramatic head-turning moments when each can take on whatever poses he or she so desires. In fact, everything about the show is so over the top - from the plot to the characters to the flamboyant costumes designed by Crystal Craft and totally unrealistic set by Danny Cistone to the missed lighting cues and spots designed by Matt Richter - you can't help but shake your head and laugh until you cry as things go hysterically wrong!
DROP DEAD! by playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, directed by Billy Van Zandt, presented by Producer Ronnie Marmo and Theatre 68 though June 28 with performances on Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 8:00PM, and Sunday at 3:00PM at the NoHo Art Center, located at 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. General admission $25.00 - Tickets are available at: www.plays411.com/dropdead. Additional information is available at: www.theatre68.com or by calling (323) 960-5068.
Photos by Mathew McVay
left to right. Bill Doherty Jr. - sitting on the floor, Cy Creamer, Timothy Alonzo, Claudine Claudio, Mark Vazquez, Eddie Liu, Mews Small, GRey Rodriguez, Shelly Hacco - kneeling, Barry Brisco - center on the floor