Great American's latest is totally tubular

2014-07-09T21:45:00Z Great American's latest is totally tubularBy Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Dudes. Are you, like, up for a totally tubular time? If the thought of the 1980s doesn’t gag you with a spoon, then, like, The Great American Playhouse’s “Naomi and Michelle’s Excellent Adventure” is totally a no duh, man.

Translation: the theater company’s latest offering is over-the-top funny. And a perfect respite from the Old Pueblo’s totally not cool summers.

Our impressions:

Time after time after time ….

The story takes place in 1984, in a universe that is, in its own way, very Orwellian — Oro Valley, with heaping amounts of influence from California Valley Girls. But it doesn’t stay there. Oh no, this Sean MacArthur-penned story (he directed, too), borrows a bit from the movie “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and a lot from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” They travel to 1776 where they converse with Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams,  who are struggling mightily to get a Declaration of Independence through a contentious congress. Naturally, they join voices for a raucous rendition of “Takin’ It to the Streets.” Naomi and Michelle also make stops in the 1880s and spend a bit of time with Jesse James (he sings “Bad,” wearing a rhinestone cowboy hat); the mid-1940s and a history lesson with Franklin D. Roosevelt, with some input from feuding generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur; back to 1873 and a lesson on early feminism from Susan B. Anthony; to the early days of the last century and a meet-up with Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite National Park, and finally they drop in on Abe Lincoln, who struggles with the opening lines to the Gettysburg address (“Eighty-seven years ago … no it just doesn’t sound right,” he says. Naomi and Michelle help him out there.)

Tagging along on the time travel are their nemeses, Arianna and Todd, cheerleaders who are grody to the max and are bent on ruining Naomi and Michelle’s chances of playing in the big volleyball game.

They’re bad, so bad …

In ’80s parlance, that’s good. This cast bought completely into the silly story and sillier characters and even Saturday night’s downpour couldn’t dampen the spirits of the audience. Jennifer Ackerley Lawrence and Amanda Valenzuela as Naomi and Michelle respectively, nailed everything from the vacant Valley Girl looks to the infectious enthusiasm of teens discovering they aren’t the ditzes everyone makes them out to be, after all.

The line between heroes and villains isn’t clearly drawn here, but no matter: our bad-guys cheerleaders, Jacinda Rose Swinehart as Arianna and Brian Paradis as Todd, elicited a few boos, but plenty of laughs. They both were a hoot, especially Paradis. The associate principal at Tortolita Middle School never broke character, staying in the geeky skin of Todd throughout. Amy DeHaven took on the roles of a volleyball coach, Jesse James’ brother, and Susan B. Anthony. She not only made them distinct, she fleshed out the characters with just a walk or a look.

Filling out the cast at Saturday’s show were Randy McDonald as a low-key Thomas Jefferson and a moon-walking Jesse James; Nick Seivert who nicely did triple duty as the high school principal, Ben Franklin and FDR; Michael Claridge’s Teddy Roosevelt was a fine contrast to his General Patton, and Sean MacArthur took on four roles and did them proud: Adams, Muir, MacArthur and Lincoln. Hey, no pressure there.

Perhaps the biggest challenge falls to pianist Mike R. Padilla, who plays — quite well — before, during and after the show. The man never gets a rest, yet never seems to falter.

The way they make us feel …

Sure, there are some missteps in this — everyone starts on such a high note that there’s nowhere for the characters to go, there were flubbed lines, and a kinda cheesy story. But here’s the thing: Great American Playhouse is committed to giving the audience a good time. So good, in fact, the faults are far outweighed by the giddy feeling you get at the show.

And then there’s this: There are incredible — dare we say awesome? — voices on the stage, especially Swinehart, DeHaven, MacArthur, Lawrence and Valenzuela. They are, like, totally radical.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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