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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Ron Lytle's Oh My Godmother!
A Cheeky New Twist on an Old Tale

Also see Richard's reviews of Wicked and Drunk with Love

Oh My Godmother!
Lisa Otterstetter, Jenifer Tice, Julia Etzel and Charlie Levy
In Ron Lytle's cheeky little musical Oh My Godmother! A Fabulous Fairy Tale, the classic Cinderella tale is told from an irreverent, gay perspective. It is one of the most camped up new musicals I have seen. The melodies are mostly upbeat and reminiscent of the work of Jerry Herman, Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lytle even throws in a little bit of Cole Porter style lyrics in "Somebody for Everybody" sung by the two goon-like sisters.

Cinderella has been presented in every conceivable form, from Walt Disney's 1950 animated version of the fairy tale to the Jerry Lewis film Cinderfella to Rodger and Hammerstein's delightful 1965 TV musical production with Julie Andrews. There was even a British musical film called The Slipper and the Rose with Gemma Craven, as well as an updated 1998 film version, Ever After, with Drew Barrymore playing the Cinderella character. In the current production the Fairy Godmother (Scott Phillips), who is drag star and owns a drag queen club in the Castro District of San Francisco, says and sings, "You may think you heard the story told before. But you only know the gist, this one has a different twist." He is oh, so right as this show has more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Cinderella is now a young gay boy named Albert (Charles Levy) who lives with his homophobic stepmother (Jennifer Tice) and two very bossy step-sisters, Esther Hazy (Lisa Otterstetter) and Esta Lieber (Julia Etzel), who constantly pick on the boy as a fairy. They call him Cinder Albert because he cleans up the house and does all of the dirty work in their Victorian house in the Castro district. The fairy godmother turns out to be a drag star who owns the fashionable Beaded Lash. Albert has fallen in love with a gay man named Prince (David Irving), who is being raised by two gay men (Michael O'Brien and John Erreca) who seem to have just come out of a production of La Cage Aux Folles.

One day Prince and his over the top, swishing fey buddy Payne (Michael Ryken) go shopping at the drag costume store. Albert is also in the store, but not ready to face his romantic idol so he hides in the dressing room. Payne, who is always on the prowl for new fresh experiences, ends up forcing his way into the dressing room and out comes Albert, in drag looking like Sophie Tucker. Somehow Prince falls for Albert even though he can't believe he could fall in love with a woman. Albert runs off, leaving Prince breathless. It's love at first sight for Prince.

Prince's parents Oscar (Michael O'Brien) and Truman (John Erreca) are horrified that their son is going straight when he tells them he is in love with a woman. As the mother of the group, Truman (acting like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage) says to Albert, "That's what we get for sending you to Nebraska. Those red states are always recruiting. One day, poof, no more poof". The gay parents have a plan. They will throw a ball and invite "a gaggle of gays" and throw in a few girls in for luck, hoping that their boy will return to a normal life of gay living. The ball commences in the second act and Albert arrives, dressed like a radiant drag queen, in a gold sequined gown. Prince has found the "woman" of his dreams, and he also realizes that this is no woman but a guy in drag. A series of confusing mishaps and misunderstandings occurs, including the famous lost shoe, and Albert leaves at the stroke of midnight singing a very charming song called "Midnight." Of course, all ends well and Prince hopes that Albert will not always be in drag. Albert promises to not be wearing dresses all the time.

Director Ron Lytle has assembled a wonderful cast of characters who really exaggerate their movements in song and dance. However, the musical is not too campy, with scenes of humanity that will appeal to all audiences. Charlie Levy (Once Upon a Mattress at 42nd St Moon) does a bang-up portrayal of Cinder Albert and he has a dynamic voice to match. This is his farewell Bay Area appearance as he heads East to attend the The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Michael Ryken (Dean Goodman Dramalogue award for Where's Charlie?) almost steals the show with his flamboyant performance that outdoes the late Paul Lynn. He defines the word "swish" in this performance and he has a great voice to match in "Look At the Way" and "Go Find the Guy."

John Erreca and Michael O'Brien are unstoppable as the parents, with Erreca outdoing Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray. Scott Phillips is very droll, with a great heartfelt portrayal of the fairy godmother. He has an excellent voice in the pleasant song "I Miss Him More Today."

Jennifer Tice as the evil step-mother, and Lisa Otterstetter and Julia Etzel as the two sisters, are proper bitches, especially when they sing the song "Bitch!". David Irving has a great voice in the earnest "Who Am I?" and in his duet with Charlie, "I'd Like to Sing a Love Song." David plays it straight throughout the production with very little camping, giving a proper balance to the rest of the cast.

The musical has a nice little set of cut-out Victorian homes like you would see in the Castro or Dolores Park area of San Francisco with a cardboard outline of San Francisco skyline. These were designed by the all purpose Ron Lytle with help from Andy Hartzell.

Ron Lytle's direction is smooth and fast paced, and his songs and lyrics are first rate for a nice gay musical that is reminiscent of Boy Meets Boy. The production could play at the Theatre Rhinoceros or the New Conservatory Theatre Center to an appreciative audience. Armando Fox directs a six-piece orchestra that has a great beat for each song. None of the actors are miked and some of the lyrics get lost in this three-sided seating theatre. The actors seem to be playing mostly to the center section as if they are on proscenium stage.

Oh My Godmother! ran through August 14th at the Alameda's Altarena Playhouse.


Photo: Patrick M. Tracy


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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