Open Eye Theatre I’ve found to be one of the most creative theatre companies around. Their The Red Shoes last fall was so good that even with my busy schedule I had to take it in twice. They’ve brought the same flair for design and over the top performance style to their outdoor summer show Hair Ball! Performed on the green roof of the Bakken Museum, this a bring your own chair or blanket affair. Hair Ball! is a musical comedy perfectly suitable for all ages. But, make sure everyone coming has a sense of humor, if you don’t have a taste for the absurd and the ability to find joy in a tongue in cheek production, you’ll miss the pleasures in store. Open Eye has assembled a cast that seems to have sprung from an episode of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends and costumed them accordingly. The only thing more delightful than their appearances are their singing voices. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer evening, running a brisk 75 to 80 minutes with no intermission, there’s still plenty of time afterwards to stop off for ice cream.
The story is set on Discovery Island, a remote Canadian island resort. It opens on the grounds of the hotel where the mayor of Discovery Island, Sheldon Witherspoon, is welcoming all of the locals to a town meeting which is interrupted several times. Once by Hotel Guest Patricia Von Highsmith, who is looking for the hotel owner Forbelius Dort to complain about, among other things, that the hand soap in the women’s restroom is to dry. The other interruption is when local crackpot and conspiracy theorist Jerry Loudermilk burst on the scene to raise the alarm about a bigfoot like creature, the Megapaw, that has been sent by aliens. Jerry knows first hand about the Megapaws because years ago he came home to find that they had come and made off with his wife, their son, all of their possessions, and some legal documents pertaining to their marriage. Next of the seen is Patricia’s daughter Winnifred, who does not want to be a society lady when she grows up, she wants to be a detective! When Winnie hears of the Megapaw she heads out into the woods to find it. The towns people send out a call to the Canadian Ranger, he’s not a Mounty, that we are informed would require a fee to the Royal Canadian Mounted Guard. He arrives and heads into the forest in search of Winnie and the beast, for there is no animal alive which he can not endanger. Soon the whole gang heads into the woods and there they will discover love, Megapaws, and magic mushrooms!
Seriously, this cast is just the bees knees as they are cartoon characters in the best way possible. It’s not as easy to pull off as you might think. They act in the style of a cartoon but are not cartoonish, and I was pleasantly surprised at all of their singing voices. When I saw what they were doing performance wise, I thought they cast them for their ability to hit this perfect note, but when they sang, it became apparent they didn’t have to make any trade offs between acting and singing talents. They’re all great but to highlight a few of favorites I’ll start with Luke Aaron Davidson as the Ranger Montgomery Ward. He’s a cross between Dudley Do-Right and a young Kevin Kline, getting Do-Rights animated look with Kline’s comic timing and voice. Georgia Dolittle as Patricia Von Highsmith and Abilene Olson as Winnie both commit fully and have wonderful voices, I just adored both of them. Finally, before I end up just listing everyone, Tom Reed as the hotel owner and Frances Roberts as the Mayor really set the tone from the opening. A show like this setup can feel a little “let’s put on a show in the backyard!” but the way these guys launched the show, I knew immediately this wasn’t going to be an amatuer production.
The one downside of an outdoor show without microphones on the cast is that occasionally when the actors faced the other way you missed a song lyric or line of dialogue. Director Joel Sass does a good job of midicating this as much as he can by making sure the performers are oscillating throughout their performances. You never miss more than a snippet here or there. Josef Evans who wrote the show, book, music, and lyrics has created a wonderful piece of theatre. It’s silly, but smart, the songs are really catchy and full of humor, but also sometimes quite sweet. The Megapaw designs were by Anne Sawyer, I’m not sure what happened, but I gather that the adult Megapaw was supposed to be on stilts, it wasn’t at the performance I attended but both Megapaw costumes were impressive without stilts. The costumes are by Rubble & Ash and they were the perfect unifying element in creating the tone of Hair Ball! I especially liked the Mayor and Hotel Owners costumes and of course the Rangers uniform was perfection.
Hair Ball! is running through June 19th at the Bakken Museum for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.openeyetheatre.org/hairball
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