Los Angeles Theater Preview: LI’L ABNER (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on August 23, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series wraps up its amazing season with a musical from smack dab in the middle of Broadway’s golden age. Given the terrific score (music by Gene De Paul, and lyrics by Johnny Mercer) and deliciously satiric book (Norman Panama and Melvin Frank), it’s no surprise that Li’l Abner brought in the crowds. But with 693 performances (Nov 15, 1956 through Jul 12, 1958), the musical based on Al Capp’s comic strip of the same name couldn’t be unseated by the likes of My Fair Lady, Bells are Ringing, Candide, Mr. Wonderful, Auntie Mame, The Most Happy Fella, West Side Story, The Music Man, etc. And even though it wasn’t even nominated for score or book (shocking when you hear it), the funny libretto and great music—aided by Michael Kidd’s Tony-winning choreography—kept the crowds clamoring for the denizens of Dogpatch.

With the hottest musical theater talent in the land and a giant ensemble all backed by a live 18-piece orchestra, musical direction by David Lamoureux, direction and choreography by Daniel Smith, and the supreme professionalism of Musical Theatre West, this one-night only event is going to be thrilling and out-and-out fun. It’s fascinating how enjoyable MTW’s concerts have been, considering there are no sets, minimal costumes, and scripts in the actors’ hands when they speak dialogue (an Equity rule). While not exactly rarely produced, Li’l Abner (playing August 28, 2016) is as deliciously satirical as a musical comedy can be. And the tickets are only 27 bucks, so there’s no excuse to miss this gem.

As she had for so many years on the daily comic page, Daisy Mae (the lovely and silver-voiced Madison Claire Parks) prepared to catch her beloved Li’l Abner (Tyler Matthew Burk) in the annual Sadie Hawkins’ Day chase. She is all the more determined this year because Earthquake McGoon (Pabil Rossil) has his eye on her and because Abner will be pursued by the voluptuous Appassionata Von Climax (Ashley Fox Linton), a role originally played by Tina Louise. Daisy is abetted, and now and then hindered, by other notable Dogpatch characters: Mammy (Tracy Rowe Mutz) and Pappy Yokum (Robert Towers); General Bullmoose (Tom Shelton); Senator Jack S. Phogbound (Bryan Dobson); Mayor Dan’l Dawgmeat (Marc Montminy); Evil Eye Fleagle (Spencer Rowe); Stupefyin’ Jones (Marisa Field), who freezes any man who looks at her (originally played by Julie Newmar); Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale (Randy Brenner); and Marryin’ Sam (Scott Harlan), who has a great rousing number about the founder of Dogpatch, “Jubilation T. Cornpone.” Their lives are further complicated after the government, declaring Dogpatch the most useless piece of real estate in the U.S.A., decides to test an atom bomb there.

It bears repeating: I am consistently impressed with the production values of MTW’s staged readings. These concerts are hands-down the best nights of theater in Los Angeles. I still dream that Musical Theatre West will one day expand its enterprise to become the west coast version of New York’s ENCORES!, offering a few weekends of these beautifully produced events. In the meantime, a thanks to benefactress Dottie Reiner, who makes these evenings possible.

Li’l Abner
Musical Theatre West
part of the Reiner Staged Reading Series
produced by Michael Betts and David Lamoureux
University Theatre at Cal State Long Beach
(corner of 7th and East Campus Drive, parking lot 7)
Sunday, August 28, 2016 at 7:00
for tickets (only 27 bucks!), call 562.856.1999 ext. 4 or visit MTW

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