Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010

Hula Hoop Sha-Boop Returns To The Stackner

‘50’s Musical Revue At The Rep

By Russ Bickerstaff
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As society emerges into a new decade, the rock music genre turns 60. The earliest rock and roll music existed in a very dramatic and dynamic point in U.S. history. The passion and energy of that era is often glossed-over by popular conception of the era as more innocent, less complicated time for society. A celebration of that perception, Larry Deckel and John Leicht’s Hula Hoop Sha-Boop is an attempt to revel in the teen culture that made rock and roll music so popular in its infancy. The ‘50’s and ‘60’s rock musical revue has been staged a couple of times by the Milwaukee Rep at the Stackner Cabaret.

This summer, the revue returns to the Stackner in an independent production directed by Tony Clements.

The revue follows two men and two women through the rocky path towards teen romance in a series of songs that play out in a brief program with no intermission. Playing-up the innocence of young romance as it does, the songs are performed without much passion. Hula Hoop Sha Boop sucks much of the soul and emotion out of the songs that made rock and roll so appealing in the first place. True, the emotion of slower songs like Where The Boys Are and some of the slower, more romantic songs can be moving in places, but the more aggressive stuff ends-up feeling lifeless and perfunctory. The lack of soulful energy is felt much more in upbeat pieces. The Land of 1,000 Dances is a withered shadow of what Chris Kenner and later Wilson Pickett made so popular in the early ‘60’s. Why Do Fools Fall In Love? makes a brief appearance that is conspicuously lacking the longing that animated the Frankie Lymon original. Quite a few other tunes are de-animated by the style of the revue, which handicaps the production considerably.

Even without the passionate rock and roll energy to drive it, Hula Hoop Sha-Boop is not without its charm. Avoiding the deeper end of the emotions frees the cast-up to focus on having fun and delivering that fun to the audience—a task the cast manages with a minimal amount of subtle desperation around the edges. Brian Craft has an oddly graceful poise as the geeky, awkward guy Paul who is falling for Paula—played by Chicago-based actress Katie Siri. Siri brings a wholesome charm to the production looking as she does like she just walked out of a 1950’s Coke ad or a Norman Rockwell painting. Marty McNamee plays goofy greaser Johnny. McNamee has a knack for comic exaggeration that seems to have been sedated considerably here and for good reason—a comic stage presence like his could completely unbalance the ensemble. At one point, he charmingly delivers a brief tribute to wham-o, the title toy and the Frisbee. Beth Mulkerron makes the biggest impression in the cast as an energetic girl named Suzie. When Suzie finally gives-in to Johnny’s advances, the diminutive Mulkerron jumps atop the relatively towering McNamee in a comically passionate embrace that stands out as one of the best moments in the production.

The more interesting end of the show’s appeal comes from some quirkier moments--most notably, the cast's performance of the theme from the Duck And Cover civil defense film of the ‘50’s.The bizarre tone of that film still has the vaguely creepy vibe it’s always had. Its presence here adds some interesting contrast to more traditional pop music of the era. It brings out the more sinister end of the era which allows the imagination to play on some of the darker elements that can be read into the songs.

JK Productions/ West 30th Productions’ staging of Hula Hoop Sha-Boopruns through September 5th at the Stackner Cabaret.

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