Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Poseidon! An Upside-Down Musical

A parody, just like satire, must be delicately handled in the theatre. Whether it is something like Forbidden Broadway or a delicate spoof in the nature of the Agatha Christie parody Something's Afoot, it is hard to define how far to go in order to generate audience response and laughter. The new musical Poseidon! An Upside-Down Musical now playing at the Theatre Building in Chicago just fills the bill. This delightful show, presented by Hell in a Handbag Productions, is a wonderful spoof of the classic Irwin Allen film, The Poseidon Adventure. Buoyed by camp performances, inventive direction by David Zak, and book, lyrics and music by David Cerda and Scott Lamberty, this production embarks on the now-famous disastrous cruise ship with a great deal of theatrical hilarity.

Cerda is the Artistic Director of Hell in a Handbag Productions (love that name), formerly known as Sweetback Productions. They made their name here in Chicago with such past efforts as Planet 9 From Outer Space, sCarrie! The Musical, Joan Crawford Goes to Hell!!!, Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, and last year's widely acclaimed The Birds, staged in an actual conservatory. Now with Poseidon! they have moved into a primetime spot at the Theatre Building. This production is a faithful parody of the movie, from the escape via the Christmas tree to the famous underwater swim sequence done in the film by Shelley Winter. Nothing is left out. It's amazing to see this transfer from film to stage.

Director David Zak notes, "The common language of today is film, and The Poseidon Adventure as a film has many fans who know its language, its characters, and its heart inside out." For those familiar with the original film (and who isn't?), there are so many sequences that are indelible in our minds that it is hard to forget them ... "The Morning After," the tidal wave devastation at the New Year's Party, the trek through the capsized ship, the multitude of larger-than-life characters and their eventual deaths, the jealousy about guidance, the rescue etc. Poseidon! captures them in such a comedic manner, via song and dance, that we actually end up rooting for their survival.

There is one basic unit set with different levels that depict the ship's promenade deck, dining room, interior cabins, upper deck, captain's bridge, etc. On stage left, there is a common area for various individuals to comment about the movie and its impact apart from the main action. What really keeps Poseidon! pulsating for two hours is the clever, innovative staging done by Zak. For example, when the tidal wave strikes the ship during the "camped up" New Year's celebration, there is no need for levitating set/stage pieces, special effects or sound effects. The ensemble cast merely rolls with the set pieces, turns them over and cavorts in performing somersaults, physical gyrations and contortions to suggest that the ship has capsized. In the infamous underwater sequence, the survivors grasp onto a rope and the characters mimic swimming with its support. Meanwhile, other cast members dressed in various shades of blue capes swirl around them, indicating the impending doom.

The music and lyrics (derivative from the film's script) are also a delight. There are so many well-staged production numbers, including "Just Panties - What Else Do I Need? (for the Stella Stevens character) and of course, "In the Water, I'm a Very Skinny Lady" (Shelley Winter's character). There is some imaginative choreography provided by Kristen Folzenlogen and wonderful silent poses among the passengers as various narrators comment about the action.

The collaborators who gave so much to create this original production are also graced with a wildly talented and exuberant cast of characters, some in drag, some straight, who create an ensemble of Poseidon passengers who have their own personalities, eccentricities and identities. They are obviously caricatures of the original film cast. I love Steve Kimbrough and Michael Miller as the doomed couple, Belle and Manny Rosen, who are contemplating their future in spite of the disaster. Kimbrough's death sequence from drowning is a comic gem. After playing the Tippi Hedren part in Sweetback's The Birds last year, Tracy Repep outdoes herself as Linda Rogo. My favorite character though is Ed Jones as Nonnie (the Carol Lynley part from the movie). Dressed in an outlandish wig and orange hot pants, with big bulging thighs, Jones personifies the character with subtle mannerisms, annoying vocal traits (part of the character) and a wild insanity.

Production credits must be given to Zak who has turned in an amazing number of hits with his direction during the year 2002. Zak has been the Artistic Director of Bailiwick Theatre since 1982 (Bailiwick is located next door to the Theatre Building where Poseidon! is being performed). He has put a definite "stamp" on Chicago Theatre. He has the inventiveness I enjoy in theatre, and he told me to watch out for the Kinsey musical Dr. Sex this Spring!

Finally, David Cerda, who also plays a variety of parts in Poseidon!, is to be commended for his originality and his sense of camp because it really works in this production.

All aboard until January 11th! Poseidon! An Upside-Down Musical plays at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. For ticket information, call (773)-327-5252.

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area

-- Charles

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