How much you like bingo is probably a good indicator of how much you’re going to like a musical about bingo. There are songs about the rules of the game, about having a girls’ night out, about good-luck charms, and the old pro coaching the newbie. Part of the draw is that you actually get to play bingo as part of the show, and can even win a little pocket cash.
In that sense, Bingo is better suited to the church basement it played in Off-Broadway in 2005 than to Center REP’s spacious stage at Walnut Creek’s Dean Lesher Center. But the gaudy tinsel curtain and Charlie Smith’s tacky bingo-hall set still work if you imagine you’re in a high school auditorium or something.
There’s not much to the show, and to its credit it doesn’t pretend otherwise. At ninety minutes with no intermission, it speeds through a flimsy plot about old friends torn asunder by petty stubbornness, but only in short snippets so that it doesn’t interfere with the bingo. More than anything, what we get from Bingo is that people who like bingo really, really like bingo.
Our heroines are a trio of types more than characters: the hard-edged, bullish boss lady Vern (Ginger Riley); the superstitious, eccentric Patsy with her small army of troll dolls (Tami Dahbura); and the flashy, unlucky-in-love bingo bimbo Honey (Maureen McVerry). Cynthia Myers is a sunny presence in flashbacks as exiled friend Bernice, and Ariela Morgenstern a bright ingenue as her daughter, Alison, come to make peace.
The jokes are all pretty corny, the songs a retro pastiche of brassy old-time Broadway. But the show definitely has its moments, such as McVerry’s bawdy song and dance fantasy “Gentleman Caller.” The highlight is part of another play entirely, albeit a fictional one: Morgenstern’s bombastic production number “Ratched’s Lament” from Cuckoo!, a musical of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A gag about bad ideas for musicals is a brave move in a show like this, but when the rest of it’s playing it safe, a little bit of changing the rules of the game goes a long way.