We have another Pre-Broadway World Premiere on a Chicago stage. While this is exciting and adds glamour to our already wonderful “theater scene”, I am sorry to report that this one is not all that I anticipated. The hype that we heard from the onset was that it would be a fast, furious and funny musical about auto racing, and the people who drive, love drivers and want to be involved with drivers. The name of the show: “Helldrivers of Daytona” with a book by Mark Saltzman, music by Berton Averre, lyrics by Rob Meurer and directed by Danny Herman who also did the choreography with Rocker Verastique. This all takes place at the Royal George Theatre on the stage that is usually reserved for new productions by Hershey Felder. Perhaps they should have him watch this one for his expertise. It needs some major cutting!
The story takes place in the mid 1960’s, in Daytona Florida. The main characters are driver Lucky Stubbs (James Nedrud does a nice job with the material he has been hired to bring to the stage) and his major competitor in the Daytona 500, Count Porcini Portobello (a very camp portrayal by David Sajewich, who can do amazing things with his tongue). They are both “taken” by the lead female, Pepper Johnson (Samantha Pauly does a nice job with the exception of her songs being too nasal and a lot of screaming). The race is on, not only on the 500, but to see who gets the girl!
The opening number is one that goes on and on, starting with three “beach- heads/surfers, Kahuna (Trey Curtis),Horndog(Christopher Selefski) and Cardoc (Aaron M. Davidson). They switch from being surfer dudes to mechanic dudes so they can work the scene for their hero, Lucky. There are also three “Bikini Babes” who also want to do the job. They are DeeDee (Claire Lilley),Marylou (Rachel Melius) and Laura (the incredibly funny Leah Morrow, who finally gets a chance to show off her many talents).
The other characters in the story and a sub-plot is the relationship between Lucky’s manager, Pitstop (deftly handled by Andres Enriquez) and his high school buddy ( who had a crush on him), Margaret Ann Olsen (Julia Rose Duray is dynamic, and does have great legs). Their duet in Act Two, “Becoming a Woman” is adorable, albeit raunchy and certainly not for children. In fact, this show might be better geared for “bachelorette parties” and “coming of age” parties. I am not sure it would be a first date entertainment piece. “Pepper’s Crazy Feeling” however in the first act is a clever bit and Pauly glows as she does her thing in this raunchy and often sexy number.
In my opinion the producers might step back and take a long hard look at this production. If it were shaved and molded to let’s say 100 minutes with no intermission, perhaps the story would stay on track, keeping the audience into the story without having to have another drink. I saw many a bored person at the opening night- several sleeping. I also saw many looking at their phones ( a no-no for sure), but the show had some boring spots, so I guess these people got lost in the shuffle. If the script were tightened and the songs were trimmed, this might be a stronger show and have a real chance to make it somewhere, but I doubt Broadway. Yes, it is filled with sexual innuendos, vulgarity and edginess, but if you go in understanding that this is what you are going to see, you probably will have a good time. I think the more you drink, the more fun you’ll have, so bring a designated driver or do the public transportation (or Uber) bit.
“Helldrivers of Daytona” will continue at The Royal George Theatre located at 1641 N. Halsted thru October 30th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $55- $65 and are available at the box office, 312-988-9000 or online at www.ticketmaster.com
To learn more about the show www.helldriversofdaytona.com
There is valet parking at the theater, garage parking at the Steppenwolf “garage” directly across the street, some street parking and of course, public transportation is very convenient.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Helldrivers of Daytona”