Los Angeles Theater Review: CHINA: THE WHOLE ENCHILADA (Sacred Fools Theater Company)

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by Tom Chaits on February 5, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

SHANGHAIED

A musical featuring three performers and 5,000 years of Chinese history in just 90 minutes sure sounded promising, but the production of China: The Whole Enchilada currently serving up won-ton laced humor at the Sacred Fools Theater leaves the theatrical diner longing for a more satisfying meal.

Upon viewing, it’s easy to see why the show won “Outstanding Musical” at the 2008 NY Fringe Festival. The book and lyrics by Mark Brown are not only informative (you’ll learn more about China than you ever knew you didn’t know) they’re clever and irreverent with a sharp satirical edge that cuts right to the bone. Who knew so many words could be rhymed with “Peking”? The songs run the gamut from light and fluffy to dark and deep but always with a comedic leaning. “Khan Khan,” an obvious play on “Can-Can,” features the singing and dancing trio waxing on those wacky Mongol marauders Genghis and Kublai Khan and the ever popular Ricardo Montalban (The Wrath of Khan). On the more serious side, “Lotus Shoes” examines the rather bizarre (and painful) ancient Chinese ritual of binding women’s feet. The book contains numerous one line “groaners” (think of every Confucius joke you heard in the third grade) as well as some very ingeniously funny dialogue. A reworking of the Abbott and Costello comedy classic Who’s on First? works particularly well.

The direction by Allison Bibicoff keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and her choreography incorporating every Chinese prop in the book (paper umbrellas, fans, etc.) is effective and succinct if not a bit simple and derivative. Aaron Francis’ retro-multimedia set including an old fashioned pull-up movie screen with sound and video projections by J. Warner serve the piece well.

Gregory Guy Gorden and Gina Torrecilla in “China: The Whole Enchilada” at Sacred Fools Theater Company.So why does it all fizzle out faster than a 4th of July of sparkler? The casting.  While there is nothing inherently horrible about the performances of Andi Dema, Gregory Guy Gordon and Gina Torrecilla there is nothing particularly enthralling about them either. They’re odd choices considering this is a musical comedy and they possess limited acumen for both music and comedy. It’s certainly not because they aren’t trying. There’s no doubt they are giving it their all and working very hard to entertain us; the reality is that they simply don’t have the chops for the material. For the show to work the cast must be a finely tuned machine that acts as one cohesive unit. While they each have their moments they never really gel as a group. For the comedy to score, the interplay and timing must be perfect. To accomplish that requires a very special skill set that they have not yet mastered. In addition, none of them has a strong singing voice. They’re fine in the mid-range but when they travel into the upper register things get a bit shaky. As a result, instead of hitting the target they merely come dangerously close to actual notes. They succeed better in the more patter-like songs but when it comes to sustaining notes the lack of breath control leads to dropped melodies and vibrato gone wild.

The performances do not totally sink the night but the boat is definitely taking on water. It’s only the strength of the writer’s accomplishments that keeps things afloat, preventing it from becoming a Titanic disaster and salvaging the experience. It’s a pleasant diversion that could have been a truly great night in the theater had it only had a stronger cast.

photos by Kyle Nudo

China: The Whole Enchilada
Sacred Fools Theater Company
660 N. Heliotrope Dr.
plays Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:00
scheduled to end on March 12, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 281-8337 or visit www.SacredFools.org

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