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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Happypants! at ACT Theatre

Beloved Seattle composer/lyricist Scott Warrender, whose credits include Das Barbecu, January Book, and The Texas Chainsaw Manicurist, recently disbanded his popular comic choir The Washingtonians, much to the dismay of its many avid fans. But the best of the hilarious and tuneful material Warrender whipped up during several seasons of Washingtonians concerts has been re-worked into Happypants!, a bright, tightly paced, peppily performed piece of holiday entertainment, directed with zany zeal by David Hunter Koch.

Happypants CastKoch, whose Hunter Koch productions are presenting the show in association with ACT Theatre, is the perfect comic chef to whip Warrender's words, music and paper-thin book into a 90-minute buffet of buffoonery. The plot is most simplistic; An Up With People-ish eight member chorale group founded by a mysteriously deceased clown named Happypants, goes on performing out of fear because tragedy seems to plague anyone who attempts to exit the group. Joined by an aging chair-dancing duo, Fluff and Don LeQwape, they sing "inspirational" songs, teach an audience member how to be a chorus person in a Broadway show, cook up a batch of fudge using Velveeta Cheese, and keep an eye out for their aged mascot - the stone-faced Mrs. Wilke (played with utter sincerity by Louise Jennings).

Warrender's wit is most bountifully on display in the audience participation number, in which he spoofs such tried and true Broadway musicals as Music Man, Carousel, and most zanily Flower Drum Song, whose infamous "Chop Suey" number is parodied to grand effect as "Teriyaki" (even reappearing as the requisite reflective reprise version in act two). The show is not overly concerned with the holidays, but it does feature a number called "Jingle" which neatly deconstructs holiday delirium. And when the group is finally able to move on and disband (as Mrs. Wilke sails onto her heavenly reward), Warrender supplies a lovely closing ballad, which could actually be moving in less twisted circumstances.

Director Koch sees to it that the hilarity never flags, aided and abetted by hilarious hosting turns by Kit Harris's Fluff (Think Carol Burnett's immortal Eunice character gone into showbiz) and Colby Chester's daft Don. Vocally, it is important to recognize the contributions of all the Happypants group, which includes David Brunelle as Vern Bin, Donald Collins ad Bradley Creaks, Steve Handberg as Farrington Field, Clark McGuffie as West North, Ellen McClain as Viva Shirley-Quirk, Sandra Singler as Svetlana Dollop, Christy Villareale as Melody Hillshire, and Kelly Wright as Jojo Lipp. Comedically, Handberg, McGuffie, Singler, and McClain take top honors as perhaps the most deranged chorale members, while Wright offers the evening's standout vocal on that closing ballad.

To add to the merriment, choreographer Stephen Terrell leaves no choreographic cliché untouched and Andrew Shields' musical direction and accompaniment, with Alec Wilmart on percussion, is just right.

With Happypants!, Scott Warrender provides a fitting farewell to his Washingtonians era. Now we need him to get back to work writing new musicals, 'cause, boy, do we need his kind of talent now!

Happypants! plays at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle through December 29, 2002. For tickets and information call 206.292.7676, or visit www.acttheatre.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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