MORTGAGEConcept and Lyrics by Bren Rapp
Book by Jeff Swearingen
Director – Andy Baldwin
Musical Direction Mose Pleasure, III
Choreography – Katelyn Harris and Megan Kelly Bates
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design – Cheyney Coles
Costume Design – Bren Rapp
Brian Wright’s Costume – Joyous Israel
Video Work – Brandon Cunningham, Chris Rapp
Ben – Brian Wright, II
Tony – Tex Patrello
Anthony – Doak Campbell Rapp
Johnny – Chris Rodenbaugh
Wren – Jeremy LeBlanc
Tracy – Karina Cunningham
Aerial – Marielle Wyatt
Matt – John Adam Jovicich
Luisa –Madeleine Norton
Willard – Dylan Strickland
Freddy – Jaxson Mueller
Joanne – Kennedy O’Kelley
Maureen – Camryn Basile
Green Day Kid – Piper Cunningham
Green Day Kid - Zoe Smithey
Green Day Kid - Joseph Nativi
Tommy – Josh LeBlanc
Ensemble – Marisa Mendoza, Taylor Donnelson, Daveid Allen Norton, Lynley Glickler, Jake Allen, Lauren Burgess, Maya Pearson, Alex Duva, Tess Cutillo, Lauren Miracle
Featuring dancers from Rhythmic Souls Youth Residency.
Guitar – Enrique Olachea, Chris Rapp, Tess Cutillo
Percussion – Jaime Zolfaghari, Bonnie Wiltrout,
Bass – Tess Cutillo
Reviewed Performance: 10/3/2014
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
If you aren’t familiar with Fun House Theatre and Film, know that it is a children’s theatre company. While most children’s theatres have adults performing plays or musicals, this group reverses the concept. It is children performing for adults. The subject matter and story lines at times tend to be adult in nature. The fact that children are performing what is mostly more mature works serves to skewer and highlight the foibles of adult life. Mortgage is not for the faint at heart or the easily offended. It is edgy and provocative theatre, made more so because it’s kids and teens performing it.
Mortgage is about a group of people waiting in various lines at a non-descript government office. Each has a story to tell and along with it a musical number. The musical is very light on plot, hence why it feels more like a musical revue, with its nineteen songs, versus a full-fledged musical with an overarching plot. But this is exactly why the show works. Structurally, it is similar to the musical Working in which the plot is secondary to the music, the focus being on the individual characters and their stories. The musical numbers are what take precedence over anything else.
The songs are all parodies of various Broadway, film or pop songs. Everything from Rent to Saturday Night Fever is skewered with the clever lyrics Bren Rapp has substituted. The show opens with “Magic to Do” from Pippin, except in Mortgage the song is called “Minutiae to Do”. Act 2 opens with “Seasons of Love” from Rent, but now called “Reasons Life Sucks”. The melodies are the same, as are many of the orchestrations; it’s the lyrics that hilariously take the audience by surprise. The skewering of such beloved musicals numbers and songs is so clever that anticipation builds before each number. I found myself on the edge of my seat thinking “What will they do next?”
Each character has a dilemma besides that of waiting in a line that never seems to move. Guiding us through all of this is the narrator Ben (as in Ben Vereen). He breaks the fourth wall continuously as the Player does in Pippin. Brian Wright, II nails all of Ben Vereen’s mannerisms and wonderful magnetic theatricality. Like the Player, he steps out of scenes to address the audience with commentary, and seamlessly steps back in to continue his role as the janitor at the office. His performance is masterful.
Doak Campbell Rapp plays Anthony, a middle-aged man that is forced to live back at home due to his financial situation. His song, “Movin’ In”, is a parody of “Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel. Not only does he effectively deliver the song, but he’s backed by a pair of dancers doing Twyla Tharp style choreography, created by Megan Kelly Bates, that captures the feel of the Broadway musical Movin’ Out. As the number progresses, the dancers became exhausted with all the body slinging, jumping and floor work which is a signature of Tharp’s choreography. The looks on the dancers’ faces as they try to keep up with the exaggerated movement adds another layer of humor to what is already an insane parody. What makes this number work so well is the commitment everyone onstage has to the song. Doak Campell Rapp sings with much earnestness, which makes the silly lyrics and dancing all the more comical.
The same can be said with all the musical numbers. Even though every song is comical, each performer and dancer plays it as if it is high drama. The seriousness with which everything is done makes everything all the more hilarious.
Chris Rodenbaugh plays Johnny, an emasculated man and father of three monstrous children. As he talks about his life, he breaks out into second best musical number of the evening, ”Carpool Medley”. The first song in the medley is “Carpool Lane of Broken Dreams”. This take off on Green Day’s song “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” proves to be a powerful statement about the difficulties of parenting. Not only is the song funny, but it’s a searing commentary of the tedium of waiting in a carpool lane and the feeling of loss of identity because parenting requires so much personal time in which to rear children properly. Chris Rodenbaugh’s performance is raw. His feeling of desperation is palpable. Whereas most of the characters are one or two-dimensional, his vocal delivery during the song transcends the parody and makes his character real.
There is a love story that is also woven into the musical. The character Tony is played by Tex Patrello doing a Tony Manero parody from Saturday Night Fever, and Tracy, played by Karina Cunningham, is parodying Tracy from Hairspray. The first song performed by Tex Patrello is the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman”, and the lyrics are changed to jaw dropping effect. The song becomes an ode to dating overweight women. It is shocking in its crassness but it is truly hysterical. This is quickly followed by Karin Cunningham’s song, “Causes I’m Fighting For”, which is a take-off on Hairspray’s “Good Morning Baltimore”. The character enumerates all the causes she’s supported and the list is simply ridiculous. The earnestness of Tex Patrello’s character is matched by Karina Cunningham’s disinterest in him. Tax Patrello is one of the best vocalists of the cast and nails all his notes. Karina Cunningham’s vocals at times are sharp or flat, but it doesn’t matter because she captures the essence of the character which proves that one doesn’t have to be the most expert singer in order to thoroughly delight an audience.
Josh LeBlanc plays Tommy, one of the workers in the office. No one ever moves in his line. He simply stares vacuously into space. A comment is made about him possibly being “deaf, dumb and blind.” Cue the music. A musical parody of Tommy erupts on stage. Outside of this one musical number, Josh LeBlanc must remain motionless at his window staring into space. Every time I glanced at him throughout the length of the show he never moved. To stay in that position for so long is quite commendable, and very funny.
Jeremy Leblanc plays Wren. He doesn’t get a solo musical number but his character is just as interesting as the rest. His frustration with life is very relatable. To say more about his plight would give away one of the funnier mini-storylines; suffice to say, he convinces with his performance.
One thing immensely enjoyable about this show is that every performer is given a moment to shine. Be it Alex Duva constantly barking orders and compliments, or Marielle Wyatt singing “Almost Percocet”, a shocking take-off on “Almost Paradise”, referencing being addicted to prescription pain killers. To name them all would make this review impossibly long. The entire cast shines.
Even though this is one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen, it isn’t without its flaws. It’s a testament to the talent of the youth on stage that they can overcome what are some serious production problems.
The staging by Andy Baldwin is clunky. While I must commend him for helping the young cast deliver consistently strong performances, his blocking creates many awkward, strange stage pictures. Frequently, the cast has to turn upstage to talk to another character. Actors are scattered across the stage for no rhyme or reason. For a musical that is skewering other musicals, there seldom is a reference in the book scenes to other book scenes of musicals, and if there are, they aren’t well executed.
The book by Jeff Swearinger has its moments, but Act 2 drags. Though light on plot, there is a twist to the love story between Tony and Tracy, but it seems forced and rushed. Also, the jokes in the second act aren’t as strong and the musical parodies aren’t as clever, and in some instances go on too long. This said, Bren Rapp is a genius. Her lyric replacements fit the songs perfectly, and besides being funny, they are scathingly articulate and express the frustration, responsibilities and problems of being an adult.
The lighting by Cheyney Coles is a mess. There is no decent general lighting. There are several dark spots, and frequently the performers aren’t illuminated as they move into the songs. There are many unnecessary lighting effects, and with the limited instrumentation, too many are devoted to create effects and not enough for general washes.
On the up side, the costuming by Bren Rapp is spot on, the clothes capturing the flavor of each character. In addition, Brian Wright’s costume creation by Joyous Israel is perfect.
Choreography is a standout. Megan Kelly Bates and Katelyn Harris do a superb job, their dance parodies creating some of the biggest laughs of the evening. As well, the dance number from Rhythmic Souls Youth Residency is gloriously irreverent.
Musically, the show is excellent. Mose Pleasure, III captures the feel of every song parodied, and with just the few introductory notes, the audience knows immediately what song and/or what show is being skewered.
The set design by Clare Floyd Devries creates the feel of a government office with its bland coloring and serviceable furniture. The “disappearing” wall comes as a nice surprise and adds a moment of magic to the proceedings.
A television screen hoisted up on a wall reads “Now serving 00” throughout most of the performance. After about an hour it changes to “01”, which made me giggle. At one point a video montage is presented, and as the story takes us to the airport, the screen provides information about airplane arrivals and departures. This video work, created by Brandon Cunningham and Chris Rapp, is a hit and a miss. While it works as an informational display screen, the sequence in which what all has happened so far in the show is quickly reviewed isn’t too clear as the screen is too small and too far away to see all the details; it also is too lengthy. The whole musical stops for this one review that is redundant.
It is a perfect show? No. Is it worth going to see? Definitely YES! The opening number of Act 2, skewering “Seasons of Love” from Rent, is worth the price of admission alone and is the best moment of the evening. The cast is a joy. They are full of infectious energy and are 100% committed to the insanity presented on the stage. If your life is in a funk and you need a good pick-me-up, this is the show you must see.
Fun House Theatre and Film
Main Stage at Plano Children’s Theatre
1301 Dolphin Drive #706
Plano, TX 75075
****VERY LIMITED RUN through October 12th
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $8.00 each.
For tickets and information, go to www.funhousetheatreandfilm.com or call them call at 972-357-5002.