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Saturday, 06 August 2011 12:52

Cheers! Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical

Written by Andrea Braun
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nptco.org
nptco.org

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical is ridiculous in both senses of the word. It is “silly” ridiculous, and “ridiculous” in the current slang meaning “that was so much fun, it was ridiculous!” The NonProphets played to a full house Friday night, which just goes to prove that if you give ‘em what they want, they’ll come out for it. Clearly, what St. Louis theatre-goers have been pining for is a comedy musical based on a classic porno flick. Who knew?

Apparently Robert A. Mitchell, Artistic Director of the company and hands-on director of this production knew. He chose the show because it conveys the idea of wanting to make your dream happen so much that you’re willing to lose your soul in the process. That sounds way heavier than what’s going on though, even if Debbie does remark at the end that making money is easy, and “all [she] had to give up was [her] soul.”

The plot is the same as in the movie (not that I’ve seen it, mind you!): Debbie (Macia Noorman) is head cheerleader at her high school. She attends a tryout for the Dallas Cowgirls Cheerleaders, and learns (in a “letter from heaven”) that she has won a spot. She has to leave in two weeks, and she doesn’t have enough money. What to do? She goes to her friends and fellow cheerleaders Lisa (Rachel Hanks), Roberta (Jane Tellini), Donna (Elizabeth Graveman) and Tammy (Bitsy Bittersweet) for help, and they concoct a plan to get jobs and give their money to Debbie. They soon find that minimum wages don’t go very far toward plane fares, and, well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Though she’s a “good girl,” (i.e., won’t have sex with her boyfriend) Debbie makes a quick $40 by letting her geeky boss at a sporting goods store, Mr. Greenfelt (Reginald Pierre, sounding like a GPS robot voice) see, touch, and finally suck her breasts. Lisa and Roberta are already promiscuous, so it’s a short leap to forming a company called “Teen Services” in which the teens provide individual attention to each customer’s wishes and desires, and they’re not talking about washing his car (though they do that too). Donna is dumb enough to go along with anything, and the only hold-out is Tammy, a serious student who aspires to the Senate someday and does not want “hooker” on her “permanent record.” One of the funniest moments among a lot of them is when Roberta is horrified to learn that grades go on the dreaded permanent record.

These are not rocket scientists, even Tammy, but they are certainly fine comic actors. Watch for a sight gag by Graveman that’ll knock you out of your seat. Noorman is good as Debbie who manages to maintain an aura of wide-eyed innocence, even when she’s riding her boss. Hanks is the “Rizzo”—the sluttiest, but most interesting and complex character. You can almost see the air coming out of Tellini’s head, and ironically, the strait-laced Bittersweet is a burlesque performer in real life. They have good chemistry and capture the essence of the cheerleader experience, right down to the entitlement and pride in the uniform. (For further information, see Season 1 of Glee.)

Chris Ayala, the aforementioned Reginald Pierre and Tom Lehmann play all the guy parts—boyfriends, employers, jocks, and johns—and they’re all very funny. Ayala is especially good as the frustrated Rick who turns to Lisa, his ninth grade girlfriend, when Debbie won’t have sex with him. The men can’t sing, but then that’s not especially important here. While this is a “musical,” there’s not a lot of singing and dancing by contemporary standards. The cast isn’t particularly adept at either (though Graveman is a good dancer and Noorman and Hanks sing passably) but there’s a lot working against them in the Regional Arts Center space. The room is cavernous with a lot of hard surfaces, the recorded music sounds thin, and they aren’t miked. But this is all rather beside the point—it’s sort of like complaining that a porno doesn’t contain great acting. The slight sense of awkwardness just adds to the fun of the piece.

Erica Schmidt, Andrew Sherman, and Susan L. Schwartz receive writing credit, and they are astute observers of adolescent culture. These kids are so sexually charged that every time the cheerleaders hug, it comes close to girl-on-girl action, and of course, this is a staple of porn films. There is the hint of group sex, oral sex, masturbation—it’s all in there, but it’s also strangely innocent. There is almost no nudity except one brief moment when one of the guys drops a towel with his back to the audience, and all acts are parodied. I’m not saying you’re going to want to bring the kiddies to this one, but it’s not especially daring in word or deed.

The set is a simple drop with a football field on it and a Dallas Cowboy’s star at the top. JT Ricroft choreographed, Phillip Allen Coan designed the lights (which at one point become part of a joke with Mr. Greenfelt), and Heather Tucker’s costumes are perfect. The girls often change clothes onstage, and the clever designs allow us to see very little. It’s like the stabbing in Psycho—your imagination can fill in the gaps. The cast seems to be having a fine time, and the audience does too. The last lines are particularly “puckish.” If you go, you’ll have a gay old time.

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