TROGG! The MusicalBook and Music by David Cerda
Level Ground Arts
Director - Bill Fountain
Musical Director - Marcus J. Jaurgui
Set Design - Jim Scroggins, Bill Fountain
Lighting Director - Bill Fountain
Costume Designer - Bill Fountain, Emily Shaw
Stage Manager - Monica Yvette Meadows
Property Design - Ande Bewley
Master Carpenter - Jim Scroggins
Keyboard - Thiago Naschimento
Guitar - Michael Ragsdale
Drums - Patrick Herring
Bass Guitar - Tyler Hagen
Trog - Jordan Pokladnik
Joan - Michael B. Moore
Carol Ann - Marcus Jaurgui
Barbara - Emily Shaw
Peanut - Cassidy Crown
Juju - Whitney Wilson
Rex Huntington - Jared Brewer
Squirt - Aaron White
Jonas Huntington - Philip Bentham
Pops - Robert G. Shores
Francine - Stacie Cleland
Sheriff - Ande Bewley
Katie King - Brooke Riley
Peppermint - Sarah Fancher
Reviewed Performance: 11/11/2011
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In my research of this camp musical adaptation of the 1970 grade-Z science fiction horror film Trog, starring Joan Crawford, I curiously searched the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) for nuggets of what I might be getting myself into.
IMDB describes the plot as follows: "Anthropologist Dr. Brockton [Dr. Joan in the musical] unearths a troglodyte (an Ice Age `missing link" half-caveman, half-ape) and manages to domesticate him ? until he's let loose by an irate land developer to go on a rampage and kidnap a little girl". The stage version, book and music by David Cerda, takes certain liberties with these details but I stress that the plot of Trogg should be of little importance to any patron that walks into The KD Studios Theatre in support of the Level Ground Arts theatre troupe. Mr. Cerda makes this quite clear when he writes one of his characters to be swiftly tranquilized for 16 hours for daring to even question a character's motives, continuity of the story, and the bludgeoning mystery of how Dr. Joan's daughter, Barbara, was ever conceived. How!? I say!
As I walked into the black box theatre I knew immediately what director Bill Fountain had in store for me. The deliberately clunky and sparse set designed by Jim Scroggins had me anticipating the reveal of a show that would be a love letter to bad, cheesy cinema, the background lined with two covered rolling platforms leading to a charmingly fake Styrofoam fireplace.
The play opened with a live four-piece band playing surf rock throughout as transitional accompaniment. We were introduced to an assorted crew of confused, teenage misfits. As the horny adolescents enjoyed their fireside bonding, no time was wasted in unleashing the terror that was Trogg, fittingly played by Jordan Pokladnik. It was here that we heard the first of the show's nine musical numbers, "There's a Big Furry Monster in the Cave that is Under the
In these first few minutes the show encapsulated what worked so well in this energetic romp and also what this reviewer wished could have been better. First, what worked was that the cast was eager and game in a tricky genre that posed a double-edged sword to any actor. I had not seen the original source material but the trailer, and what I'd read suggested the sort of cinema that
was so bad it was great, in part because the actors inhabiting the roles were oblivious to the fact that they were performing in junk, lending the techniques of the story telling more accountability than it deserved. In Trogg! A Musical the actors were consciously aware of the shows intentions to embrace that same campy spirit.
So how did the actors approach such a challenge? Do they play it straight with the utmost of convictions, allowing the comedy to rise organically? Or, do they play it broad and go for the jugular with any attempt for a laugh? Bill Fountain seemed to have directed his actors to tow the line between both these scenarios.
The result was mostly successful as the actors kept my interest in their comedic shenanigans throughout. A standout in this department was Cassidy Crown playing the part of Peanut, trusty sidekick to Barbara played by Emily Shaw, the kidnapped daughter. Ms. Crown was like a bouncing ball of controlled energy in which she seemed to be channeling the spirit of the late and great comedienne, Gilda Radner. Marcus J. Jauregui excelled in this area too, playing the role of Carol Ann successfully in drag. As Carol Ann, Mr. Jauregui, had me chuckling at the most random of lines with a consistently thoughtful earnestness to his delivery. Even a throwaway line such as "How many ccs of nitric oxide?" was handled by Mr. Jaurgui with just the right amount of sincerity, with still a knowing wink to the audience that allowed us to welcome much of the silly
Marcus J. Jaurgui was also the show's music director. It was in the presentation of the musical numbers that I wished the director and music director handled better. Both Mr. Fountain and Mr. Jargui had a difficult logistical feat working against them. The script of the production required most of the musical numbers to be sung in-between scenes, and since most of the
actors pulled double-duty as scene changers, it meant that the flow and continuity of any momentum for the show would always be interrupted. Often times, as each musical number began, we as the audience still felt like we were witnessing an extension of the set change, as the lighting effects indicated little or no change from the dimness that you expected to see during a scene transition.
This was a bit of a shame because, as performed, the music was fun and lively. Praise was deserved for some of the actors that clearly did not have polished voices for any sort of musical theatre, but moxie won in spades for them as they illustrated that you could still sell a song with gusto. The conviction with which the actors belted out their notes was infectious as the music was catchy and the cast member's love of performance transferred into this reviewer's listening enjoyment.
Highlights of the show's musical numbers were Whitney Wilson as Juju ("My Baby Likes to Rock" and "A Real Gone Gal"), singing with a well-armed, bluesy and sultry alto that was a perfect throwback to the surfer rock of the 1960's. Brooke Riley as reporter Katie King also shined with "We Got Your Action News Here" and "Run, Run, Run, You Better Run".
Because Trogg! A Musical covered the gamut of comedy, in good taste and bad, I've offered a few random samplings of choice scenes that had me laughing and smiling:
?The characters Barbara and Rex Huntington (Jared Brewer) have done for cheese doodles what Meg Ryan did for deli sandwiches in When Harry Met Sally.
?Robert Shores delivered an amusing, crusty and crotchety voice as Pops, the "old man", so much so? that I found it increasingly funny that in keeping with the spirit of bad cinema, no concerted effort was made to make Mr. Shores look like a crusty, crotchety old man. Hilarious.
?The sight of Dr. Joan masochistically holding her hand in anguish over a Bunsen burner.
That last anecdote was illustrative of the key performance that held everything together. Michael B. Moore played the role of Dr. Joan, rightfully played in drag, a complete send-up of every glorious, indulgent and excessive crime against acting (at least in her later years) that the late actress Joan Crawford ever committed against the craft. Moore had clearly studied Joan Crawford intensely because the manner of his style and movements to re-create such a revered Hollywood icon was uncanny.
Trog, the movie version, was the last film that Joan Crawford starred in. It was perhaps a film she might have wished to take with her to the grave. Trogg! A Musical simply wanted nothing more than to shine a light on one of the ugly ducklings of cinema, and from it create an entertainment that was a mindless, comic-musical homage, good for a couple of big laughs, some minor chuckles, and a handful of musical numbers that I dare anyone to try and get out of their
head. These very base ambitions may seem just that but they were no less noble to the theatrical art form.
Level Ground Arts
The KD Studios Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons Expy., Dallas, TX 75207
Runs through December 3rd
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15 pm
Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children under 12. There is a 10-pack special for $180. All tickets purchased online have a service fee.
For information and tickets, go to www.levelgroundarts.com or call 972-302-1801