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 www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Free parking is available at the theater.
Photos by Agnes Magyari
Jason Rowland, Jonathan Root and Elijah Rock know that "Bigger is Better."
Rachel Noll and Michael Rubenstone
Nina Brissey (as Chastity) and Jonathan Root (as Preacher John Mountain)
Nina Brissey (as Chastity) celebrates "Jesus is Deep Inside Me"
Jason Rowland (Mayor Gayheart), Elijah Rock (as Tater), Jonathan Root (as Preacher John Mountain)
"I Don't Wanna Sing on Broadway" with Elijah Rock (as Tater) and Jason Rowland (Mayor Gayheart)
Marie-Francoise Theodore, Michael Rubenstone, Kristal Lynn Lockyer and Robert Craighead