Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.


Also see Susan's review of Democracy

Doug Krenzlin, Bill Karukas, Alex Perez and Kathryn Fuller
Hellzapoppin is one of those legendary titles that theater buffs know, but almost no one today has seen. The zany 1938 revue by Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson ran for three years on Broadway despite critical scorn, and served as both a spiritual and literal ancestor for much of late 20th-century comedy, including the works of Mel Brooks, Airplane! and its successors, and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

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
July 13th —August 18th
By Ole Olsen and Chick Johnson
Ole Olsen: Bill Karukas
Chic Johnson: Doug Krenzlin
The Company: Esther Covington, Brian Crane, Congo Gorilla, Kathryn Fuller, Evan Crump, Alice Fuller, Tanera Hutz, Emily Webbe, Steve Lebens, Andrea Abrams, Steven McWilliams, Alex Perez, Ed Xavier, Suzanne Edgar, John Tweel, Ron Sarro, Glenn White, Jennifer Robison Potts, Mary Millben, Deborah Critzer, Ellen Dempsey, Ginny Tarris, Lou George, Jack Marshall Sr., Bruce Follmer, Dwayne Pierce
Directed by Jack Marshall
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or

Photo: Jeffrey Bel

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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