Review: DID YOU SEE WHAT WALTER PAISLEY DID TODAY? Scares Up Tons of Laughs in La Mirada

Outrageously quirky and oddly delightful, this gag-heavy "beatnik" horror comedy is funny and fresh yet weirdly familiar.

By: Mar. 25, 2023
Review: DID YOU SEE WHAT WALTER PAISLEY DID TODAY? Scares Up Tons of Laughs in La Mirada
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The wonderful thing about seeing a new, unseen world premiere stage show---especially when it's not immediately recognizable as a work based on or adapted from existing properties---is the ability to go in with fresh eyes (and ears) and to take everything in without any preconceived expectations.

So unless you're intimately versed in the cinematic universe of B-movie king Roger Corman or a fan of the late actor Dick Miller, that clean-slate experience is the impetus for the delightful surprise one will likely encounter when seeing the brand new musical (with the rather long title) DID YOU SEE WHAT WALTER PAISLEY DID TODAY?---now having its laugh-filled, thoroughly impressive world premiere production at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through April 2, 2023.

Commissioned by the La Mirada Theatre and MB Artists, Inc., the in-house nurtured show---developed and directed by La Mirada Theatre's own Producing Artistic Director BT McNicholl---is self-described as a "beatnik horror comedy musical," incorporating madcap silly antics and a humorously pulpy "horror" plot with a soundtrack stacked with lounge-fly cool jazz and swinging 50's pop (orchestrated to be Broadway-esque, of course).

WALTER PAISLEY (what I'll be calling the show going forward for brevity's sake) features book, music, and lyrics by Randy Rogel, whose gag-worthy résumé includes Emmy Award-winning work at the Warner Bros. Animation studio with shows like Animaniacs, Batman, and Pinky and the Brain. That same style of biting, sardonic wit from those series is bursting at the seams in this stage musical, and it made for such an amusing watch, especially for those who don't easily take offense at dark, absurdist gallows humor.

The swiftly-paced show centers around the antics of its title character, sculptor Walter Paisley (played winningly by Steven Booth), a literal starving artist whose day job is as a lowly waiter/busboy at the Café des Artistes, a local safe haven for poets, performers, and other creative types located at the heart of San Francisco's beatnik arts scene, circa 1958 (think cigarettes, berets, and bongos).

The parody-baiting opening number is led by celebrated wordsmith/pretentious blowhard Maxwell (the funny Ross Hellwig), an infamous celeb within this subculture, who explains in a humorously tongue-in-cheek, beat-poetry meets cool-jazz way that almost anything---including the mundane and the utter ridiculous---can be considered "art."

Review: DID YOU SEE WHAT WALTER PAISLEY DID TODAY? Scares Up Tons of Laughs in La Mirada
Steven Booth (center) and Company. Photo by Jason Niedle.

The whole number is done in a clever, beatnik-flavored, retro avant-garde way that hints at this show's overall "don't take this serious, folks" tone, which is also a subtle set-up of the events that are about to come spilling out.

When we meet Walter, he seems, as expected, overworked and underpaid. It's a lifestyle he puts up with as he awaits his next big break in the art world, which hasn't been very responsive to him.

He's got a cutesy crush on a frequent visitor, a talented dancer named Carla (the superb-voiced Vanessa Sierra) who dreams of making it big herself, but still makes time to come in, sip cups of cheap coffee, and champion Walter's artistic ambitions, despite all his creative and financial setbacks.

Meanwhile, Walter's harried boss, café owner Leonard (the amazing Kingsley Leggs), also acts as Walter's personal art rep/agent on the side, but yet refuses to place his employee's mediocre work amongst the more celebrated ones on display in his establishment. He has his doubts whether Walter even has any talent at all.

Things aren't going any better at home for Walter. His landlord, the horny Mrs. Swickert (the bawdy and hilarious Kathy Fitzgerald) has the hots for Walter, and takes every chance she gets to seduce him whenever she spots him, which often leaves Walter cringing.

Desperate to come up with something to be artistically lauded that would elevate his status amongst the arts community (so he can, well, pay rent and be a somebody), he stumbles onto a unique, though highly objectionable art form by, um, accident (teehee) while trying to aid Mrs. Swickert's trapped pet cat from behind his living room walls.

For fear of spoilers for those who haven't seen WALTER PAISLEY and are planning to see it soon, I'll spare you further details. All I can say is that the resulting new piece Walter molds from (mostly) clay becomes an overnight sensation, which, of course, prompts him to take a stab at creating more pieces using his newfound method of "life-like" sculpture to keep his artistic standing up high.

Walter's work is universally deemed astonishing. Even better---his work is good enough to impress both Carla (who further encourages him) and Leonard (who finally decides to promote him). And, heck, even the snobbish Maxwell is a little jealous and annoyed of Walter's artistic breakthrough.

Eventually, as demand for more of his artwork increases, Walter is forced to repeat his unorthodox creative methodology many times over (this is where the "horror" part of "horror comedy" comes into play). He becomes a hit with commoners and the glitterati set, and transforms himself from a starving artist into one of the art world's newest superstars.

But is this fame (and some fortune) long-lasting? And will his methodology be sustainable for much longer, given the, uh, difficulties involved in obtaining the raw materials he needs to sculpt his masterpieces?

An admirable, wildly uproarious first full production of a brand new musical, WALTER PAISLEY is perhaps one of the most enjoyable work-in-progress shows I've seen in a long time---and seems poised to get better with every subsequent new mounting.

There's lots to already love here: from its outrageously quirky and oddly delightful story that had me literally LOL'ing many times, to its pleasing, playful songbook of smile-inducing tunes, including a title song that's a repeatable earworm that will drive you nuts when you discover it gets stuck in your head for hours just like the chorus of "It's A Small World."

As the show progresses, one humorously ridiculous situation is usually followed by another, causing me to burst out... "wait...what?!" in abject disbelief quite a lot, mostly for the story's strange yet compelling premise.

The show's talented, hardworking small acting ensemble---led by the charming, infectiously enthusiastic Booth---is also worth noting. Sierra's powerful vocal chops are undeniable (her Act 2 ballad is chef's kiss awesome) and I loved that both Leggs and Fitzgerald are given chances to strut their veteran chops with marvelous aplomb in their separate solo moments (Fitzgerald in particular is a ham-tastic scene-stealer, as she reliably does in every role I've seen her in).

Many of the dance-centric numbers are super fun, thanks to the cute and kooky choreography presented by BEETLEJUICE's Connor Gallagher. Sound-wise, musical director Andrew Orbison does a terrific job of helming a grand-sounding orchestra, filling the theater with jazz and jazz-adjacent music orchestrated by Larry Hochman and supervised by Kimberly Grigsby.

Elsewhere, WALTER PAISLEY'S visual components are quite first-rate for a show in its early stages. John Iacovelli's richly texturized set designs are effectively transportive, chockfull of amusing Easter eggs and comical surprises while also serving as a lovely canvas backdrop for David Lander's lighting designs and Ryan Marsh's narrative-punctuating projection designs. The wonderful, cheeky surprise of puppetry is featured as well, brought to life by the work of designer Aran de la Peña.

So after the show, out of sheer curiosity, my friend and I decided to do a quick Google search about the main character, mostly to see if he was based on someone that existed in real life or in some fictional property because of the outrageousness of what we just saw. Truth, after all, is stranger than fiction, as some say.

Lo and behold... it turns out that Walter Paisley is the name of several characters played by actor Dick Miller---most notably the first one, who is the main character in Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, a low-budget horror flick that features a busboy and budding artist named Walter Paisley who commits the exact same "creative" acts as the Walter Paisley character does in this musical.

The parallels don't end there. Additionally, even many of the characters in the film share the same names and character motivations and arcs as the ones in this stage show.

But, strangely, Corman's film isn't mentioned or acknowledged by the production as source material or even as an inspiration---not verbally during McNicholl's Opening Night introduction nor printed in the show's official program.

While I'm not sure why this connection isn't mentioned, the alleged source material is (at least for me personally) so obscure that I actually enjoyed the blissful ignorance of not knowing any of this information prior to seeing WALTER PAISLEY. Going into the show with no wisdom of what it's about or what kind of musical comedy it would be was, honestly, part of the fun... that discovery of its shocking silliness and the delight in seeing its sharp, wacky turns that no one sees coming.

Or have we?

Yes, you're not imagining it.

If you're getting a lot of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS meets SWEENEY TODD vibes while watching the musical, you're not alone. I suppose this is somewhat purposeful, because the show does even include a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that pays direct homage to that other horror comedy musical (coincidentally, also sourced from another Corman B-movie), as if confirming to the audience that our suspicions have merit.

But like most first-time, world premiering shows, this one is far from perfect, but it has the... um... bones to get there.

The show, for the most part, mostly nails what it has set out to do, but is still, in this early stage, trying to find some of the how. The opening number is perhaps the closest the show comes to truly fulfilling the expected musical genre that matches its marketing aesthetic (the main show artwork is from renowned mid-century modern-inspired pop artist Shag), but the rest of the music in WALTER PAISLEY---while certainly tinged with cool jazz---could just as easily fit into other musical comedies that isn't tethered to the beatnik subculture. This isn't necessarily a flaw of design, but a few mere musical tweaks could make the genre-connection certainly much more fully imbedded in its very core.

Peppy and thoroughly engaging, WALTER PAISLEY is, to put it simply, a fun time. Kudos to Nicholl, La Mirada Theatre, and the city of La Mirada for championing the development of this new work that started as a staged reading that now has morphed into a full, impressive production.

See it now and you can say in the future, "hey, I saw the original!"

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ.


Photos by Jason Niedle courtesy of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Performances of DID YOU SEE WHAT WALTER PAISLEY DID TODAY? at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts continue through Sunday, April 2, 2023. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in the city of La Mirada. Parking is Free. For tickets, visit or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.


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