Original, local musical comedy is a love riot
By the time the lights went up for the first intermission of The Loveseat Diaries, my face hurt from laughing and grinning so much. Last Saturday night (Feb. 16), Chico experimental prog-rockers The Pageant Dads made their musical-theater debut with a Valentine’s Day satire that had the over-packed house laughing, whooping and even breaking their glasses (OK, just one broken glass) during one very fun night of local theater.
The Pageant Dads have been incorporating their alter-egos—four friends, each a father of a youth beauty-pageant contestant—into skits interspersed among songs during their live gigs for the past year, and The Loveseat Diaries was an extended three-act romantic-comedy musical-theater version of the concept.
The story centers mostly on Ruth Wardwell, played by Dads’ guitarist Danny Wardwell, a single, unemployed sad sack who spends his nights on the loveseat of his band mate Craig D’Anthony (bassist Gavin Fitzgerald) and who is hoping to get accepted as a contestant on the TV dating show Blind Chance at Love. Meanwhile, Ruth’s band is busy rehearsing for its upcoming “big” concert at the Holiday Inn, and when Ruth does get the invite to the dating show, it turns out the day of its taping falls on the same night as the big gig.
Ruth chooses love over rock, and his band replaces him with hotshot Chili Dog (played with cock-rock gusto by local metal shredder Matt Shilts). And from that turn, the story splits in two—with shenanigans including the taping of the sleezy dating show hosted by Kurt Saywut (served up with extra cheese by Kenny Kelly) and an increasingly overbearing Chili Dog singing about his, well, Chili Dog. In fact, except for the rousing, proggy closing number “Baby Mamba Drama” (featuring Michael Bone’s schizoid guitar work), the rocking “Chili Dog Anthem” was the best song of the night (with drummer Alex Coffin’s silly and endearing “Yellow Pages Song” right up there as well).
There were also a couple of really funny, well-placed video segments. Although, while the first one, featuring a day in the sad life of Ruth, was hysterical, the second one, which looked in on him and his blind date (with the darkly weird, air-headed No. 1 Date, played by Jessica Sijan) as they had dinner, was so quiet that it sucked most of the energy from the promising-looking scene.
For me, though, the most fun was had in the interplay among the guys in the band. The Pageant Dads are just flat-out hilarious. I especially enjoyed Wardwell’s well-timed deadpan as the clueless Ruth, as well as Fitzgerald’s cheesy, smooth-talking Craig, the dental hygienist with the mustache and the leased ’09 Sebring. His resonant voice and dry, natural comebacks and asides killed me (and I almost spit up a lung every time he took an exaggerated running start at the mic to make a loud point).
The production reminded me a lot of the Blue Room Theatre’s unhinged late-night shows, or some of the holiday-themed productions at the old Chico Cabaret, where looser, musical shows often opened things up and created a more interactive experience for the audience than the usual straight play. The style is fun and inviting, and The Loveseat Diaries excelled in that regard. And the audience ate it up.
The thing is, even though I was prepared to factor in their inexperience—this was The Pageant Dads’ and producer Joshua Hegg’s first foray into theater—and give the them a bit more of a break, it turns out that they’re actually already good enough to make legitimate screwball/musical theater. The places where they faltered weren’t a product of inexperience, but rather had to do with technical problems that interrupted the flow. And given the fact that the Dads and their production crew are all experienced performers, technically proficient musicians, and audio engineers, they undoubtedly already possess the skills needed to correct uneven sound (as when one character would be on a mic, while another was off), or redo crummy sound on a prerecorded video segment. So, no pass given there.
Thankfully, The Pageant Dads are pretty damn good writers in addition to being excellent musicians. Their characters were funny and were very naturally played (by the band and their actor/musician friends), and their ridiculous and funny story about hopeless people searching for love and recognition followed a well-constructed, engaging narrative and was very sweet. Sweet, and funny, and crazy, and rocking. It was a great start, one that hopefully will lead to even more productions by the innovative crew.