Inexplicable Delights

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk .

Try to explain the following: there's musical called Altar Boyz--that's Boyz with a 'z.' It's a sort of theatrical This is Spinal Tap about a Christian Rock Boy Band. Instead of metal anthems like Break like the Wind, the Altar Boyz sing parodies of syrupy hip-hop tracks with lyrics like "Jesus called me on my cell phone." This week marks the 2nd year that the show has run successfully Off-Broadway; yet when Altar Boyz made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles last month, it was only booked for two weeks. This was confusing: here's a hit show with proven appeal to young, hip audiences in New York, why not give it a chance to find an audience here? Sure enough, on the Wednesday night I went, Altar Boyz was well attended--except almost no one in the audience was under the age of forty.

One might think that a show that satirizes groups like In Sync or 98 Degrees would only appeal to a younger crowd; but no. The older crowd gathered at the Wadsworth Theatre in Brentwood clapped and cheered throughout, then gave the show a standing ovation. So, where were all the people who might have actually bought a Backstreet Boys CD? Who knows, but I have the feeling that booking Altar Boyz in a theater on the grounds of a VA hospital might have been part of the problem.

But with theater, location isn't everything. The Steve Allen Theater isn't a much more hip or inviting venue--it's located in bland nonprofit complex in Hollywood--and yet a quirky new musical, The Beastly Bombing, is flourishing there. Even more irreverent than Altar Boyz, this satirical melodrama--subtitled "A Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by The Tangles of True Love"--has no New York track record or starry pedigree. It opened in September with little fanfare, and six months later it's still running.

Created by Julien Nitzberg and Roger Neill, The Beastly Bombing uses the style of Victorian operetta to tell the tale of two white supremacists who try to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Problem is they run into two al-Qaeda operatives trying to bomb the same target. Throw in some Hassidic costumes, psychedelic drugs and of course, the President of the United States and you've got a theatrical romp that feels like an episode of South Park guest directed by Gilbert & Sullivan.

The Beastly Bombing is by no means great theater. The singers are uneven, the sets crude, but its appeal stems from the fact that it's genuinely clever--plus its humor is entirely uninhibited. Like South Park's crude cut-outs, the equally two-dimensional characters and slapdash situations in The Beastly Bombing have a way of making you laugh in spite of yourself.

One more surprising musical addition to LA's small theater scene is yet another production of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. This long-titled revue has been running for over 10 years Off-Broadway, and has been seen numerous incarnations here in Southern California since its West Coast premiere in 1998. (It's only March and there have already been two local productions this year.)

I Love You You're Perfect Now Change is the simplest of concepts: a bunch of humorous numbers about relationships, needing very little set design--or rehearsal. It's an easy show for a small theater to put on, but it's a lot harder to make the show's hoary shtick seem like more than a singers' showcase.

The new revival assembled by Michael Chaves probably started as just that, but the director cast four extremely likable young actors who breathe new life into the old material. Two of them in particular, Dina Buglione and Marqui Maresca, are first-rate musical theater artists. Their energetic, emotionally-true performances are genuine highlights in the inexplicable blur of local musical theater.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change continues at the Lounge Theater through March 18; The Beastly Bombing runs indefinitely at the Steve Allen Theater.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.