Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Democracy
Director Jack Marshall and the American Century Theatre in Arlington, VA, have decided to reinvent Hellzapoppin for a contemporary audience; the result may not be classy, but it's undeniably funny, and fast moving. If one comic bit doesn't land properly, the next one probably will, and some of them become funnier with repetition, such as the stoned delivery boy with the potted plant or the frantic woman searching for "Oscar." One warning: even intermission doesn't allow a break from the shenanigans.
Marshall explains in his notes that the original Hellzapoppin had little use for a set script, and that some of the existing original material is too dated to be usable today, but some moments (for example, the sight gag involving ice) are close to the original. He and his collaborators have also brought the show up to date with topical humor (such as the sing-along led by "Federal Prisoner H59743") and digs at other Washington theaters at one point, the Phantom of the Opera (currently at the Kennedy Center) appears in the light booth.
Bill Karukas and Doug Krenzlin do a creditable job standing in for Olsen and Johnson, respectively, and also serve much of the time as masters of ceremonies for the rest of a large cast. Standouts include Esther Covington who delights as she massacres the lyrics of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and, joined by a tap-dancing violinist, sings a heartfelt ballad titled "He Broke My Heart in Three Places"; would-be diva and good sport Lucia Frennetti Calzone (Mary Millben); John Tweel as the Great Howdiddi, master of escape; and Ron Sarro as several small, creepy men, one of them smeared with blue paint. "Producer" Brian Crane also takes a lot of humorous punishment from several sides.
American Century Theatre