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Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010

‘Hula Hoop Sha-Boop’: Milwaukee Rep’s ’50s Nostalgia

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There appears to be a cultural need to view the past in a simpler, more innocent light. In the 1970s, a decade troubled by Vietnam and Watergate, a sanitized version of the ’50s became immensely popular, as evidenced by the rise of films and television shows like Grease, American Graffiti, “Happy Days” and more. Retro ’50s and ’60s aesthetics have appealed to audiences ever since.

In 1991, years after “Happy Days” was canceled, Larry Deckel, John Leicht and John Tanner put together a feel-good collection of ’50s and ’60s rock tunes and turned it into Hula Hoop Sha-Boop, a light cabaret musical that debuted at the MilwaukeeRep’s Stackner Cabaret. Having played at venues all over the country, the musical revue makes its way back to its home stage this week courtesy of a joint project between JK Productions and West 30th Productions.

With little complexity in its plot, the 75-minute Hula Hoop Sha-Boop is sheer theatrical comfort food. It’s all too easy to ridicule the promo copy in the press release: “A delightful stroll back to the fabulous ’50s which takes us back to the age of innocence [andsegregation and racism], with musical vignettes and comedic stories which recount the days of poodle skirts [and openly sexist workplaces] and soda fountains [and closeted alcoholism]. The days of the birth of Rock and Roll [and the Cold War] are celebrated as the cast sings…”

All criticism aside, and despite the fact that it alludes to a simpler time that didn’t actually exist, it’s a fun tribute to days gone by. New York-based writer/director/performer Tony Clements returns to Milwaukee to direct the show, which features a four-person cast briskly strolling through some 70 classics from the infancy of rock ’n’ roll, including “At the Hop,” “Get a Job” and “Runaround Sue.”

Hula Hoop Sha-Boop runs Aug. 5-Sept. 4 at the Stackner Cabaret.

Also opening this week is CarteBlanche’s latest farce, the 1967 Ray Cooney/John Chapman comedy Not Now, Darling. The theatrically comic, multitalented Michael Keiley stars as fur shop owner Gilbert Bodley, a flamboyant man in his late 40s looking to sell fur to a mobster’s wife. Of course, the mobster’s wife is also Bodley’s would-be mistress, and things get a bit more complicated from there…

Carte Blanche’s production of Not Now, Darling runs through Aug. 15.

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