Call it natural law or serendipity, but Center Stage has become the San Fernando Valley's--perhaps all of Los Angeles'--home for wacky musicals.
On weekends at Center Stage, tucked deep in the corner of an unsightly Woodland Hills mini-mall, is the deliciously loopy "Flood Tide at Rio Magdalena." Now, during the week, is the almost-as-loopy "Royal Flush," by Frank Palmieri and Brian Mulligan, who also directs. If you're not smiling at the end of these two shows, check your vital signs.
"Flood Tide" is a broad spoof of Western melodrama, while "Royal Flush" is a close cousin to Woody Allen's early film, "Bananas"--banana republic politics meet American nut cases. The continuity of nuttiness here is a remarkably happy accident, since Palmieri and Mulligan had nothing to do with "Flood Tide."
In "Royal Flush," the Caribbean island of Juandenegro undergoes one of its usual coup spasms. Rebel leader Rudolfo Montero (Jacob Witkin) overthrows King Frederick Radcliffe (Tony Pandolfo) and deports the royal family to . . . Van Nuys.
Will the royals blend in with the local Van Nuys culture of malls and bowling? Will Princess Valerie (Andrea Lee Davis ) find true love with boy-next-door Tommy Selvey (Jimmy Peters)? Will Montero let Perot-style Texas oil man Bill Bottoms (Greg Maragos) drill every inch of Juandenegro? Will the king learn to bowl a strike before he gets his family back to the island?
Salt-of-the-earth Juandenegrans Luther and Angie (Jeffrey Polk and Thea Marie Perkins) tie the plot together with narration. In Mulligan's and Palmieri's book, this couple comes dangerously close to the stereotype of happy, exotic blacks (a la Al Capp), but Polk and Perkins yank it away from racial land mines with caustic sarcasm.
As the king and rebel leader, Pandolfo and Witkin make ridiculous opposites--but with this show, the more ridiculous the better. Maura Knowles' Queen Eleanor provides a nice balance to Pandolfo's gruffness. Davis (who has the show's prettiest voice) and Daniel Mirau are the perfect royal children.
The Van Nuys crowd is what makes this a comedy, though. Greg Natale and Anita Morales crank the wackiness up several notches as the neighborly Selveys, especially helpful on the wonderful group song, "That's How the Regular Folks Have Fun."
The Valley-Juandenegro axis reaches its zany zenith with "Let's Get Some Rest," ingeniously staged with typical economy by director Mulligan.
Of course, at tiny Center Stage, one has to be economical; Andrew Wise's set, lights and sound provide charm on a budget.
One bit of economy rubs the wrong way: Audiotape of music director and keyboardist Sean Paxton never meshes well with live accompaniment by percussionist Ted Medbury and guitarist Michael Murphy.
A live trio would give this lively show an almost unbeatable hand.
* WHAT: "Royal Flush."
* WHERE: Center Stage, 20929 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.
* WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday through May 31.
* HOW MUCH: $15-$18.
* CALL: (818) 973-2213.