It’s no surprise that a community theater in Lafayette thought it would be a good idea to put together a musical revue of cinematic songs as a season closer and call it Let’s Go to the Movies. What is a surprise is that this light fare turns out to be a hilarious evening’s entertainment that the most jaded urbanite could enjoy. This is not because the aforementioned concept is some stroke of genius — far from it — but because of a happy accident. The director originally slated to create the show for the Town Hall Theatre Company bailed at the last minute, and Venus Rising founder Kevin Morales was called in to come up with a new show as quickly as possible — the catch being that it had to feature songs from films and be called Let’s Go to the Movies.
So what does Morales do? He writes a play about a guy who has to write a musical revue called Let’s Go to the Movies for a community theater in Lafayette called the Town Square Theatre. Writer and director Darin (played with callow charm by Jason Carden) has to come up with a script that’ll pander to the competing visions of board president and self-styled blonde bombshell Veronica (throaty, boa-wielding Elizabeth McCoy) and ham-handed sex kitten Kitty (a strutting, statuesque D’Arcy Erokan), both of whom he is sleeping with; make room for the performers with actual talent; and try not to break the heart of the self-sacrificing stage manager Missy (Summer Day Ross, adorable in overalls and glasses), whom he also is sleeping with.
As cute exercises in metafiction go, so far, so good. But then Morales takes it one step farther when Darin inevitably decides that the only way to make the show work is to make it a musical about writing a musical for a bunch of board members who fancy themselves actors. “We could just base the characters on the actors we get,” he says, “because I got nothing.” For one small step in the narrative, it makes for a giant leap in showmanship. The entire second act is a madcap parody of the already-parodic first act, an opening night performance in which the actors have just been handed the scripts fifteen minutes before curtain. If McCoy’s Veronica doing a clumsy Marilyn Monroe imitation on Madonna’s “Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy in the first act was funny, Erokan’s even-less-subtle Kitty imitating Veronica’s performance with “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma is drop-dead hilarious. And it just gets funnier from there, with all the ham actors playing each other, slowly recognizing they’re being insulted, and stumbling over lines and scenery. If the first act is funny, the second really rolls out the belly laughs, building on the first and on itself to marvelous effect.
The songs are worked naturally enough into various audition and brainstorming scenes, and if some of them are pretty cheesy, it doesn’t matter, because they’re rendered in such an over-the-top way. Even Christopher Cross’ godawful “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” becomes bearable when manhandled with breezy sentimentality by Reymond Wesley as the foppish actor and board member Trey. The buffoonery of McCoy, Wesley, and Erokan just gets funnier as the night progresses, and there is (as one would hope) some excellent singing along the way. Rebecca Pingree in particular is a knockout as Joy, a teenage belter of Disney tunes, all fresh-faced enthusiasm and clarion pipes. When Joy says her daddy will offer two thousand dollars for every song she gets to sing, Darin asks, “Is this what community theater is all about? Because this is exactly how professional theater works.”
Don’t get me wrong: this show isn’t ready to be the toast of Broadway or anything. The characters are drawn in broad sketches, and the story whipped up and wrapped up in swift, furious strokes. Though Darin’s ex-girlfriend Autumn (Michelle Ianiro) enters to much sound and fury — most of it from Darin — she’s a promising complication that never actually complicates anything. But if the plot is pretty thin, it’s thicker than it needs to be for a farcical musical revue like this. And if there are few real show-stopping numbers, it’s all right — because we don’t particularly want the show to stop. Although it runs nearly two and a half hours, it never once seems overlong.
The songs — a hodgepodge of chestnuts, Bond themes, and recent retro ephemera from movies such as Dick Tracy and Down with Love — rely a lot on the campy delivery and seldom really soar when they’re supposed to. But sometimes they do, and those times make all the rest worthwhile. Ianiro sings “Falling in Love Again” (from The Blue Angel) with lovely sincerity, and Woodrow Thompson manages to squeeze a slam-dunk of a performance out of Elton John’s “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge, a song so tortured it has to garble the English language even to scan (“how wonderful life is now you’re in the world”). And after Thompson has put in his time with very nice renditions of pleasant nonsense like “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid and “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s a moment that feels earned.
Ross’ Missy puts in an impressive balletic fantasy dance sequence (to a recording of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun, no less), despite her character’s mousiness. A ongoing device in which Darin’s ever-welcoming bed is held upright by flanking actors pays off beautifully in a dream sequence in which all the women except Missy are in his bed serenading him with “Lullaby of Broadway,” Andrews Sisters style. Pingree does a wonderful job with sugary confections such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Grease‘s “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and The Little Mermaid‘s “Part of Your World,” but what’s really impressive is that even singing a tad low for her range, she sells Bonnie Tyler’s guilty pleasure “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (which vaguely qualifies as a movie song because of its inclusion in the 2001 Bruce Willis/Billy Bob Thornton vehicle Bandits) well enough that it becomes a show-stopper despite itself.
In the beginning, vampy Veronica presents Darin with seven other rules for the show he is to create besides its title and movie-song mandate. Among the other dictates is, “It must be appealing to seniors and families but still be considered ‘adult’ entertainment for those who come on a Friday or Saturday night.” Listening to that sentence (once in each act) makes one realize just how smartly Morales has achieved exactly that. Those who thought Let’s Go to the Movies was a darling idea to begin with can enjoy a hearty laugh and be razzle-dazzled without having to think too hard, and for those who thought it sounded like a terrible idea, there are layers upon layers of irony in a script that accepts that it’s a terrible idea and moves on from there. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of musical comedy as promised, and then some. And for something that was basically MacGyvered together from rubber bands and chewing gum at the last minute, it’s a triumph.