NECESSARY You might not think the world needs another roller-skating musical, but it does, it does!
Perhaps the success of the 2007 musical adaptation of the 1980 film Xanadu inspired Jen Wineman to transform the 1979 film Roller Boogie into a stage musical, but Roller Disco the Musical! (at Oberon through August 30) proves there is room in the world for more than one musical comedy about roller-skating disco dancers. Wineman's script, which was co-written by Sam Forman with music by Eli Bolin, has been packed to the gills with loving mockery of the source material; many lines have been ripped directly from the film and then turned on their heads with a follow-up joke. Bolin's original music, written in '70s-disco style, seems to take a back seat to Forman's clever lyrics, but there are a couple great showstoppers here, aided by a small cast stocked with big belting voices.
Since Roller Boogie is already a campy movie, Roller Disco's parody has to turn the camp up to 11. Almost every word feels like a tongue-in-cheek push against the fourth wall; the actors often point out which ethnic stereotype or romantic-comedy cliché they're invoking, each speaking with a tone of voice that all but screams, "Get it?" The over-the-top comedy takes a little getting used to, but after the first few minutes, you'll be sucked in by the actors' intense commitment to corniness.
Jacqui Grilli plays Debbie, the poor little rich girl who would rather roller skate at the beach with the peasant folk than practice her flute and attend Juilliard. Johnny Max (Ahmad Maksoud) has caught her eye, since he's the best skater on the boardwalk, and she wants to win an upcoming roller boogie contest with his help. Meanwhile, Debbie's parents want to set her up with fellow rich brat Foster (Mark Mauriello), whose interest in Debbie revolves around proving that he's not gay (except, he is).
Anyone who hoped for a straight stage adaptation of Roller Boogie will go home disappointed; there's nothing straight about this production. Amping up the parody of Roller Boogie's free-loving, tiny-shorts-wearing roller-skaters meant putting a homosexual spin on Johnny Max's macho-man clique. By the end of the play, the guys are openly kissing and cuddling each other — and Debbie's relationship with her brainless blonde friend Donna (Marissa Rae Roberts) gets hot and heavy, too. The cast also drops the F-bomb frequently. Many jokes revolve around interjecting a sudden cussing or explicit references into a wholesome conversation. This, along with a dash of racial commentary and Debbie's endearing misunderstanding of feminism, mocks Roller Boogie's somewhat outdated politics for the benefit of wiser present-day audiences. But this "update" won't suit everyone; at the showing I attended, an elderly couple in the front row looked cranky throughout the first act and left at intermission. The rest of the audience seemed on board, but the play's humor does seem to be designed with young liberals in mind.
, Musicals, Theater, Oberon, More