BOOMERMANIA by Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio – El Portal Forum Theatre – Los Angeles Theater Review

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by Tony Frankel on February 18, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles


Six highly energetic triple-threat performers hit the ground running at the El Portal Theatre during the opening number of Boomermania. With a lacquered glee that one can only find in a cruise ship showroom (containing all the subtlety of a tidal wave), it serves as a warning of the rocky voyage ahead. What could have been a smooth-sailing satirical tribute examining the Boomer Years via sketches, song parodies, and film clips becomes an over-hyped, sensory-overloading, bulldozing blast down memory lane. Those who wax nostalgic over frozen dinners and valium-popping moms may forgive the unnecessary excess on display, but only to a point. The core audience should be made up of those who find the mere mention of “Depends” uproarious (at fifty years of age, I believe I was the youngest person in the audience). Writers/directors Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio must know this, or else they would not have presented this scrapbook of an evening at 78 RPM when 33 RPM would have sufficed. Bring your Dramamine – you may find yourself rocking and rolling between waves of nostalgia and nausea.

The first sketch involves a golly-gee-gosh ninth grader (Daniel Amerman) in the year 2525; he has unearthed a time capsule from the Boomer years and asks his teacher to explain this odd race of humans. It struck me as odd that he comes off like Beaver Cleaver (behaving like the generation that he finds weird) and wearing a 1950s sci-fi B movie costume with silver tights (that only a Boomer would have envisioned for the future). It’s this sort of incongruity that highlights why Boomermania is cloying: it wants to lampoon a generation that lived in a state of prolonged adolescence while at the same time celebrating the good ol’ days. In fact, the last number, sung to the tune of “We Are the World,” is “We Are the Boomers,” in which the cast sings that Boomers are the champions of the world. Are the creators still poking fun at us, or do they really believe that? They seem less intent on recreating authentic characters who invoke the audience’s memories than they are with ribbing Boomers; instead of piercing our hearts with a fond reflection, the evening (with its distorted vocals) pierces our ears.

Some of the writing is brilliantly insightful, especially when Boomers are discussed in an anthropological context, such as the desire for simplicity clashing with out-of-control consumerism. Especially effective is the remarkable film footage, such as a black-and-white commercial with Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble puffing on Winstons as the wives do all the housework. When we are shown a government-sponsored clip of “Duck and Cover” – instructing school children how to prepare for the Bomb – I laughed even while experiencing a melancholic regret.

The sketch material, although occasionally funny, fares less well because the characters are wafer-thin – broad caricatures of stereotypes that serve no other purpose but to walk us through the years. In a 1980s ten-year high school reunion segment, there is the seminar junkie (or ESTaholic) and the Sexaholic, who sing “Life Sucks” to the non-80s tune “That’s Life.” (The other tune is “Everybody Must Get Phones,” a funny pun on the lyrics from Dylan’s 1966 “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35”: “Everybody Must Get Stoned.” The joke, however, loses its sustainability when we recognize that the mass popularity of cell phone usage is a 90s phenomenon.) These outlandish numbers are screaming for a realistic delivery, but the characters lack veracity and development, causing this (and most of the sketches) to feel forced. The producers would have done well to hire a director from The Groundlings: for sketch comedy to shine, it must be grounded in reality. How refreshing it would have been to have three-dimensional characters take us on this decades-long journey. The directors also need to reign in their actors: when the kids start singing and shrieking about junk food in the Romper Room segment (“Sugar Pops, Cap’n Crunch” sung to the tune of “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”), Boomermania becomes Boomermaniacal.

It must be said that these actors work their butts off in fun albeit mismatched costumes (Erica D. Schwartz) and are to be commended for the numerous wig changes. All of the actors are engaging, but it is unclear if they have the chops to pull off sketch comedy at the level of The Groundlings; what is clear is that Kasper and Sierchio could use an auteur – one who understands that broad and farcical material becomes wearisome when it is played broad and farcical. Plus, much of the show is staged for a proscenium house when this is a thrust stage.

As writers, however, they are really on to something with a clever way of reminiscing: One skit has a George Plimpton-type narrator reading Sally, Dick And Jane as Classic American Literature on PBS; another had two Dr. Benjamin Spock impersonators on To Tell The Truth, relating how they screwed up American families, while the third contestant was Dr. Spock from Star Trek.

One of the more successful sketches was the 1970s marijuana segment: a teenage boy disobeys his mom and gets stoned at a party when a transvestite, a la Rocky Horror, invites the kid to play on a giant bong as “Bohemian Rhapsody” is parodied. Still, the celebration of marijuana usage combined with an occasional tone of condemnation is confusing. Ultimately, the entire evening was like some ragweed I smoked in the 70s – I never got really high, but I sure did have a hangover.

Unlike those older Boomers who adore KCET “Remember When” specials, I tend to be the Boomer that is generally cynical when it comes to nostalgia shows and jukebox musicals. I’m a huge fan of Americana (I still get warm fuzzies when I think about my Lincoln Logs), and I would love to see a show such as Boomermania succeed; to do so, it must leave us with a joyful yet wistful reminiscence, not a migraine. The framework for inspiring theatre is there, but the show needs subtlety and more of the intelligent insight; how else can we be expected to take in such a huge subject? I fear, though, that audiences may flock to this the same way that they supported the silly Smokey Joe’s Café and the latest trifle from Broadway, Rock Of Ages. I suppose modern audiences are craving a simpler time that never really existed, so they go for recognizable music and iconic images, even if it is presented in a mind-numbing fashion. There’s the irony: we crave simplicity while theatre productions become more complicated.

When a slide show of fallen leaders thankfully appeared during the excess of Act Two, it made me realize that I wouldn’t throw the Boomer out with the bathwater – it’s a terrific premise; if we can get a man on the moon, surely Boomermania can be fixed.

tonyfrankel @

photos by Tony Garcia

scheduled to close March 27 at time of publication
for tickets, visit


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mark Greenhalgh May 28, 2011 at 12:27 am

Great review, and I totally agree with what you said. Unfortunately your review was written in February and I just saw it tonight (May 27) and am sorry to say the same problems are still there.


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