Saturday September 23rd 2017

“Trogg!, A Musical”

Recommended  Back, some forty years ago, when Joan Crawford was at the end of her career, she was in a film titles “Trog” written by Peter Bryan,John Gilling and Aben Kandel. The movie did poorly as it was what might be called a “B” film but did develop a small “cult” of  followers, many who adored Ms Crawford for the marvelous characters she played over the years. A Great number of these followers were ( and possible still are) from the Gay Community, so it is quite fitting that one of our local companies, Hell in a Handbag Productions, come up with a parody that is based on this movie, but with some music that brings us into “rock ‘n roll” ! With a book and lyrics by David Cerda, Artistic Director of this company ( additional book by Cheryl Snodgrass) and Music by Cerda and Taylor E. Ross, this is a very cute spoof of what might be called a spoof itself, and it seems that David makes a charming Crawford playing the main character Dr. Joan Cannon.  Handbag’s “mission statement” is to entertain! That they do and even under some of the tightest spots in a theater space that has pillars to block some vision, they accomplish everything they set out to do!

The story is a very simple one. Dr. Cannon, a noted Anthropologist ( Cerda is absolutely “fabulous”) hears of a furry monster in a nearby cave and feels she and her trusty assistant/housekeeper/whatever,Carol Ann ( a wonderful character played to farcical perfection by Ed Jones) are off to see if this is that special thing that will bring her even more fame. The town Mayor, Jonas Huntington ( deftly handled by Michael S. Miller), who was Joan’s childhood sweetheart) wants to take the captured Trogg ( they added a ” g ” to avoid being sued)to the flea bag zoo so that he can charge people to come and see this amazing Thing. Chad Ramsey, who spends a lot of time running around and growling does a remarkable job of keeping his character ( or caricature) on an even keel during all the silliness that takes place during this 2 act, almost two hours of “sheer insanity” directed by Scott Ferguson.

This is a teen story as well ,as the teenagers in town learn from what is going on that it is time for change and that their Mayor should not be able to make the rules up as he goes along, to suit his needs ( and that of what he interpret in the bible). Joan has a daughter who is a teen, Barbara ( powerfully played by Elizabeth Lesinski) who as the story progresses, we learn was a “test tube ” baby. Her best friend, Peanut ( a marvelous camp performance by Alex Grelle) who is the niece of Carol Ann and another friend, JuJu ( the very sexy Megan Keach playing a woman, who is in fact a woman) They are the teens who learn about love and respect along with the town “boys”, Rex, the Mayor’s son (Edward Fraim) and Squirt ( played by an actor with one name Chad with a certain comical flair)The two boys in the ensemble who handle several roles in support areAndrew Swan and Joshua A.Peterson. The rest of the girls are Alison Logan and Julie Burt Nichols. The ensemble members, although small in numbers are huge in talent and their ability to change characters quickly. The other main characters are David Besky as the Sheriff, The marvelous Jason Grimm as Pops who along with his wife Francine ( a delightful romp with Allison Tolman)own the local diner and teach these kids a lesson about growing up and bucking the status quo. There is also  a campy news-person, one who is always there and always stirring up the locals, played brilliantly by Harmony France ( who also gets to show off her vocal range as well as her comic touch).

This is sheer fun! Yes, there are some lessons to be learned from this story, but they are not why people go to productions by handbag- they go to forget all the stuff in the outside world- to put their troubles on a “back-burner” , at least for a few hours, buy a drink and just laugh those troubles away. The only real problem with this production is the limited space the lower level venue offers at The Chopin Theater. They have built a stage ( set by John Holt)that allows audience to sit on all sides but the massive pillars that support the theater upstairs have a tendency to block so of the action. Perhaps the next time they do a musical as large scale as this with all the dance numbers ( Choreography by Kristen Smiley) they can examine other ways to utilize the space to keep this from happening as it tend to take one out of the story as they crane to see what is going on. The costumes (Kate Setzer Kamphausen), the lighting ( Mark M.Nardulli), sound(Harrison Adams) and wigs ( wow! BC Kalz really did a number) added to the campy touch of the production. The “Evolution Revolution” production number had a great projections by Peter Neville with illustrations by Frank Mares- could it be that Sponge Bob, Square Pants is related to some of these cast members? What happens to Trogg in th eend? He becmes what he should become with the ehlp of love – see for yourself just how love can overcome almost any obstacle!

If you are looking for a place to go where you can laugh your A _ _ off for a small ticket price, then “Trogg! A Musical” now on sage at The Chopin Theater located at 1543 West Division Street ( at Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues) with street parking  and as I always suggest, use the Blue line and you are 100 feet from the door. The production will continue through July 3rd with performances Thursday,Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $15-$28 and are available by calling 800-838-3006 or Online at www.handbagproductions.org

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