What are the odds of two plays at two different theater district venues having themes about movies -- the making of same, pitfalls and perils, with plots centering around schlock and the starstruck?
Steep, I would say, but it has happened. Road Less Traveled Productions currently features Jon Elston's most recent play, "Buffalo Movie," lampoonery about filmmaking in Buffalo. Across Main Street, Neal Radice's Alleyway Theatre has returned with a run amok musical comedy about tinsel town titled "Lost in Hollywoodland," a story about, well, let's just say that it could be the musical from hell.
Alex Wexler wrote the book and lyrics and the late Bill Parsley the music for the bizarre "Lost in Hollywoodland," the winner of Alleyway's Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition in 2005. Funny and tuneful -- with more than 20 songs ranging from the awful to the raucously vaudevillian and back again -- the story is the Faustian tale of wannabe film director Dexter Webster and his rocky road to fame.
Dex is struggling in Hollywood, unemployed, searching for his big break among the "has-beens and the no-wheres." His life, he says, is like a bad movie: "Out of focus, grainy, with bad light." But, he perseveres, at last uttering that fateful plea, "I would do anything to get into movies!"
Poof . . . smoke . . . and who should appear but Malitoff Dyablik, a sort of Beelzebubian schlockmeister, master of the malaprop, who says, of course, "Anything?" Well, it's the old dreams-for-your-soul tradeoff, and the rest of the night follows Dex, his dreamy girlfriend Daphne and washed-up actors Carlotta and Edwin as they seek their fortune with "insect cinema," scripts taken from Daphne's diary and notes about giant leeches and cockroaches. She is, after all, the daughter of a fumigator.
"Lost in Hollywood" is a typical Alleyway production in many ways -- changes in the script right up to opening curtain, a look of the underrehearsed, misbehaving props -- but this one comes with musical director Michael Hake, costumer Todd Warfield, choreographer Carlos Jones, the veteran and generally unflappable director Radice and a cast full of fine voices and a love for the absolutely foolish and the terminally silly. This show, which can get vapid in a heartbeat, can grow on you.
There are some groaner songs, some very inventive ones with delicious wordplay and others with Gilbert & Sullivan overtones. "Movies, Movies" is an early setup; "Reoccurring" tells of Daphne's dreams; "Long Luxurious Lashes," with the lecherous Dyablik promising the world, has this gem of a lyric: "You don't need glasses or eyedrops/You don't have an eye like Cyclops." Then there's the wonderful "I Am an Actor"; the rousing "Malitov Dyablik" with zanies Abra and Kadabra; and the resolving "We Were Made for Each Other" -- all sung on the way to the mad conclusion, Dexter's chaotic but soul-saving filming of what surely will be a new cult classic, "The Slug Woman From Uranus."
Radice's cast works very hard at all of this: Casey Denton and Colleen Marcello are the attractive young lovers; Tom Owen, an outrageous heavy, leads the night as Dyablik; Kim Piazza again uses well her music hall comic skills; Roger Van Dette is a steady Edwin; and Christopher Parada and Jeffrey Coyle bring stupidity to the edge. Sometimes they cross over.
The best advice is to stick with "Lost in Hollywoodland" even at its worst moments. It's remarkably goofy. And sometimes you need a healthy dose of that.
"Lost in Hollywoodland"
Musical comedy presented through May 5 in Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley.
For more information, call 852-2600 or visit www.alleyway.com.
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