BWW Review: PARADISE at Austin Playhouse
Welcome to Paradise! "A town of sinners and saints", brought to you by Austin Playhouse courtesy of Frost Entertainment. Originally produced by Ruskin Group Theatre Co of Los Angeles and now on tour, this gem is currently in Austin and what a delightful treat it is! With an incredible book, music, and lyrics from Bill Robertson, Tom Sage, and Cliff Wagner, this show has it all. Add to that a stellar cast and a terrific set and what more does one need?
Paradise, (population 129), is a community struggling to survive after the closure of the coal mine that sustained the place until now. Mayor Gayheart (Chip Bolcik) is still reeling over the loss of the local preacher and unsure of how the residents will survive. But Gayheart has high hopes for Paradise and higher hopes still for Broadway stardom for his son Tater (Randy Taylor). Needless to say Gayheart's brother Ezra Johnson (Dave Florek) has reasons to doubt Gayheart's dreams. First of all, Tater does not share in his father's dream (he wants to be a dot-com "entreprenerd"). And second of all, as explained in the song "Hillbillies", the town is made up of well, hillbillies, hardly a bastion of Broadway material.
Local beauty and orphan Louanne Knight (Kelsey Joyce) desperately wishes to escape from Paradise while local miscreant Cyndi (Paige Segal) has accidentally (?) torched the church, dashing Mayor Gayheart's hopes of the preacher's return... and......enter the Reverend John Cyrus Mountain (Jon Root) and his assistant, Ms. Chastity Jones (Nina Brissey). Rev Mountain, a "For Profit Prophet" has plans to build a megachurch in the town, and Jones? Well, Ms. Jones is a born-again Christian who explains her conversion with show-stopper "Jesus is deep inside me". It's a catchy tune that grabs your attention with special choreography provided by Jessica Hopper. Rounding out the cast is TV producer Peter Martinez (Jaime Daniels) looking to put Paradise back on the map via reality TV. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
Bluegrass is the toe-tapping genre used here and musicians Jim Doyle, Matt Downing, Jessie Harris, and Rick Watson keep the pace moving and double as residents of Paradise. The book is chock-full of clever one-liners and each character has at least one song with which to showcase their talents. Run-time for the show is about 90 minutes but it feels more like 60.
One of the complaints I've heard from those who claim they don't like musicals is that the songs are too long. Not so with Paradise. They are just right and skillfully placed to help further the plot. All in all Paradise is a thoroughly entertaining show with something for everyone. I highly recommend you catch it while you can. Musicals this charming just can't be beat and performances (through February 3rd) are selling like hotcakes, so act now. Y'all don't want to miss this one!