Los Angeles Theater Review: I’VE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY (The Rude Mechs)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on October 12, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

A WILD WEST PARTY IN CULVER CITY

The Rude Mechs’ I’ve Never Been So Happy works overtime to please. This Western extravaganza spills into the Kirk Douglas Theater’s lobby for an interactive romp before and after the show, as well as during an extended intermission. Audience members who embrace the Frito pies and margaritas, the cowboy hats and prairie bonnets, the themed games and giant color-by-numbers will undoubtedly emerge with a smile. Unfortunately, the fun of the performance party often surpasses the fun of the musical itself.

I’ve Never Been So Happy by The Rude Mechs at Kirk Douglas Theater – Los Angeles Theater Review by Sarah Taylor EllisWith book and lyrics by Kirk Lynn, music and lyrics by Peter Stopschinski, I’ve Never Been So Happy is a freewheeling Wild West variety show. The Rude Mechs thrive on twangy accents and square dances that take the mythological construction of the American West to a campy extreme. Yet this performance troupe employs so many layers of storytelling that a simple love story becomes unnecessarily convoluted. Before the end, the tale is even entangled in feminism and nature preservation.

Despite a playful range of musical styles, many songs – such as “Everything’s Tied” – drag beyond their welcome. The show’s YouTube-style humor brings temporary laughs, but the giggles rarely last beyond the first minute of each tune.

I’ve Never Been So Happy by The Rude Mechs at Kirk Douglas Theater – Los Angeles Theater Review by Sarah Taylor EllisFortunately, the performers bring invigorating, raw energy to their roles. Star-crossed lovers Annabellee (Meg Sullivan) and Jeremy (E. Jason Liebrecht) make for a compelling couple, but their dogs Sigmunda (Jenny Larson) and Sigfried (Paul Soileau) steal the show with their vibrant puppy physicality. The ensemble arguably outshines the leads in talent, a backup chorus amplifies the soundscape with powerhouse vocals, and the dancers’ kinetic energy suffuses the stage. Dayna Hanson’s quirky choreography is an innovative, postmodern mash-up of country/western and modern dance styles.

I’ve Never Been So Happy by The Rude Mechs at Kirk Douglas Theater – Los Angeles Theater Review by Sarah Taylor EllisThe on-stage orchestra of four violinists, rocking guitarist Eric Roach, and keyboardist/music director Peter Stopschinski is exceptional, but Stopschinski’s sound design is too loud – and especially painful when a few of the lead vocals veer flat. Stopschinski navigates multiple roles in the Rude Mechs, even making a hysterical turn as the voice of a mountain lion in “Don’t Know Sing.” I’ve Never Been So Happy reaches a hilarious height in this raging death metal number. In a fantastically effective multimedia mix, the broken “lion speak” lyrics are projected across the background, along with rising flames evoking Trogdor the Burninator.

More often, though, the multimedia design, multiple ensembles, and lobby performance party feels overwhelmingly like a theatrical case of Attention Deficit Disorder. The Rude Mechs’ playful creativity needs refining. Although it offers some fleeting delights, I’ve Never Been So Happy fails to match its exciting, immersive aesthetic with sustained entertainment.

stellis @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Craig Schwartz and Brett Brookshire

I’ve Never Been So Happy
The Kirk Douglas Theater
scheduled to end on October 23
for tickets, visit http://www.centertheatregroup.org

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