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Theater Review

In Truth, 'Misanthrope: Karaoke Musical' Is Good for a Few Laughs

April 18, 2002|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In "The Misanthrope: The Karaoke Musical!" at Stages Theatre, there's a "karaoke moral charter" that singers must follow. The top commandments are: Never perform original songs and always, and they mean always, applaud everyone, no matter how sour.

Albert (Robert Dean Nunez), the star of Joel Beers' wobbly adaptation of Moliere's classic, is fine with the first commandment. He knows that singing anything but a pop hit amounts to sacrilege. It's the second that ruins his rhythm. Does everyone have to make nice all the time? Wouldn't some well-placed honesty help? All the pretense, the hypocrisy, the smiling. Bah. Moliere was just as infuriated with these things when he wrote "The Misanthrope" in the mid-1600s. French high society was a den of glad rags and glad-handing as people vied for better placement among the blue bloods.

Beers and director Patrick Gwaltney seem to think karaoke clubs are a modern equivalent of Moliere's turf, with rules, compromises and bad clothes coloring the scene. Well, even Beers and Gwaltney admit, in news releases, that the parallels they draw are a stretch. They stress they just want to have fun. Is "The Misanthrope: The Karaoke Musical!" fun? Sure, but it's a lot like visiting a karaoke joint: A trickle of the stuff can bring on grins, but a flood threatens to wear you out. And here's a caution: You can't signal for another cocktail when resolve weakens.

Actually, this show owes as much to "Saturday Night Fever" as to Moliere. We get rhyming couplets, many revamped with slang, but the plot and people push John Travolta and that famous disco contest into mind. Albert (taking off on Moliere's Alceste) might be fuming over all the phonies, but he still wants to win the upcoming sing-off. Partnering with his sweetheart, Celine (Moliere's Celemine) would seal victory but she's busy playing the field.

As we drift to the finale, various regulars and would-be contestants, both high and low on the food chain, get to wreck a song or two. There's nothing subtle about it. When the message is love, we hear an iffy rendition of Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual." And when Albert realizes his ethics have left him an outsider, a sanctimonious "Solitary Man" by Neil Diamond fills the small Fullerton theater, gaudily decorated as a club by set designer Jon Gaw. It's a laugh. And so are some of the characters.

Patti Cumby's Celine knows she's the queen of the prom and milks this knowledge throughout. Her verbal catfight with Andrea (Cynthia Ryanen) tickles in more than a few places. Jon-Enee Merriex as Albert's sidekick, Phillip, and Aaron Wyne as his nemesis, Oliver, are as silly as they're supposed to be.

Beers and Gwaltney toss in the unexpected every now and then to tweak things. My favorite surprise, apparently inspired by the more melodramatic figure skating at the Winter Olympics, comes when a not-so-graceful woman, in delicate chiffon, roller-skates around the stage to accent a romantic moment. Down went designer Bill Mittler's mood lights and up went the chuckles.

*

"The Misanthrope: The Karaoke Musical!," Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. $12 and $15. Ends May 11. (714) 525-4484.

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