BWW Review: PARADISE, a Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy has World Premiere at the Ruskin Group


The small coal mining town of Paradise has seen better days and its citizens are facing hard times in PARADISE - A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy. Can a charismatic new preacher, Rev. John Cyrus Mountain (the remarkable and versatile Jonathan Root) who has arrived in town with his bombshell sidekick ChastiTy Jones (Nina Brissey), rescued from the stripper pole at the Innuendo Lounge, save the day? Given her pole dancing antics during her suggestive "Jesus is Deep Inside Me" number, there is no doubt the men in town will follow her anywhere - while the women find her spiritually disturbing.

This satirical musical lowbrow hoedown about living the American Dream tells the tale of what happens when the town gets convinced by the Preacher that the way to its salvation is through being the subject of a new reality TV show. "If they believe 'The Bachelor' is real, they'll believe anything" is his mantra. His divine plan for Paradise brings "Boom to Bust" reality TV host Rebecca Washington (Marie-Francoise Theodore) and cameraman Peter Silverman (Michael Rubenstone) to town and they convince everyone to go along with the plan for their salvation by embracing "Reality TV" is where you want to be.

"Growing up in the Bible Belt, I had folks pushing me to do what they said would bring me the salvation they thought I needed...and after being a contestant on the reality TV show 'America's Next Great Band' I got to experience a whole different set of people pushing me to do what they said would bring me the momentary success that they thought I needed. Tom Sage, Bill Robertson, and I have tried to create a story that shows these very different forces acting on an innocent town whose past suffering has made them easy prey. Through music and comedy, we ask questions about the best and the worst in all of this." - Cliff Wagner (Co-Creator)

And what a riotous group of citizens they have created! Old Man Johnson (Robert Craighead) is gruff but lovable and celebrates his roots in the song "Hillbillies" admitting they don't have a lot of money, but do have a lot of guns. Loved his get spiffed up with soup can teeth! Paradise Café owner Louanne Knight (Rachel Noll) is trying to carry on in her mother's footsteps, letting us know how much she is missed with the tender "Miss You." Her beautiful harmonies with Michael Rubenstone in their love duet "Same Old Me" added a touch of joy and heartfelt young love, filled with hope that redemption is possible.

Mayor Gayheart (the hysterical Jason Rowland) is a germophobe and his hand-protecting gloves got more outrageous with each scene. He is devoted to his son, Tater (Elijah Rock), although it is very apparent he is not his biological father. But the two men are devoted to each other, sharing their mutual admiration in the charming "Me and Tater." And kudos to Rock for his amazing tap solo while he tells his father "I Don't Wanna Sing on Broadway." This number totally captivated the audience as did their "Mine Is Bigger" number with the Preacher (Jonathan Root). All swagger and innuendo, this number was definitely an audience favorite.

And then there is madcap Cinderella (Cyndi) Tiara Applebaum (Kristal Lynn Lockyer) who celebrates getting back at those who have mocked her with the comical "Light a Bag of Shit." Lockyer's enthusiasm got the audience singing and laughing along with her. Such fun! And kudos to the band for bringing the essence of bluegrass to the show.

If life is overwhelming you and things just don't seem to be going your way, lighten up and forget your troubles for a few hours in the town of "PARADISE." I guarantee you will leave the theater smiling!

PARADISE - A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy, directed by Dan Bonnell, runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through March 30, 2013 at the Ruskin Group Theatre, located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors, and guild members) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244. For more information please visit Free parking is available at the theater.

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Shari Barrett Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. After teaching in local secondary schools, working in marketing for several studios, writing, directing, producing, and performing in productions for several non-profit theaters, Shari now dedicates her time and focuses her skills as an independent publicist to "get the word out" about smaller theaters throughout the Los Angeles area. As a founding member of the LA Stage Alliance Leadership Council Task Force, she and reps from theaters throughout the city work together to articulate a vision for the theatre community of Greater Los Angeles. Shari has received recognition from the City of Los Angeles for her dedication of heart and hand to the needs of friends, neighbors and fellow members of society for her devotion of service to the people of Los Angeles. Shari is honored to serve her hometown as a contributor to Broadway World.

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