★★★★☆ - Delicious
I’m not entirely sure how Troy Heard, Artisitic and Managing Director of the Onyx Theatre, does it. He takes ridiculousness and turns it into rousing hilarity, and just plain fun. His latest foray into silly is “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical.”
Erica Schmidt, Andrew Sherman, and Susan L. Schwartz adapted the adult film classic to the stage for the 2001 New York International Fringe Festival, and the 2002 Off-Broadway run. The plot is still as thin and trite as any porn video you’ve ever seen—not that this reviewer has seen any; well, okay not that many—but the three creators have infused their script and lyrics with a bit of redeeming soul.
On a bare stage with a backdrop of a center scrim painted as lined notebook paper, flanked by drops created with netting and silver streamer curtains, the action takes us to multiple locations in quick scenes. This leaves plenty of room for the exuberant choreography of Kady Heard and Ronnie Lloyd Nanos, and for them to throw in plenty of suggestive movement for comic effect.
Now, most people who haven’t seen it think the movie was about Debbie “doing” the entire Dallas Cowboys football team. But the actual plot was Debbie, who’s been accepted as a Texas Cowgirls cheerleader, and her high school chums trying to raise enough money to get to Dallas.
The entire cast does a terrific job. Director Heard has them going over-the-top, playing directly to the audience at chosen moments, and it works. The further into the show the more blatant the sexual content becomes, and he hasn’t allowed the cast to back down for a minute.
Christina Balonek plays Debbie deliberately kittenish. She succeeds in invoking and maintaining her “good girl” status and innocence, right up to the end of her virginity. Her high school pals are played by Nicole Unger (Donna), Kady Heard (Roberta), Brenna Folger (Tammy), and Amanda Kraft (Lisa). Heard and Kraft play, with finesse, the girls willing to satisfy their boyfriend’s sexual urges. Unger brings gravelly undertones to Donna that works to set her between the girls who will and the girls who won’t. Folger’s role is the girl who won’t, with glasses and speech impediment adding to her character’s innocent façade.
These five women all play the typical teenagers with the kind of actions and intonation one would expect, invoking Valley Girl speak and “Legally Blonde”-type characterizations. Yet, they find ways to differentiate; they don’t become clones of one another.
The men take on multiple characters; the members of the high school football team and various men who hire the girls to do odd jobs, and then end up paying for a variety of “services.” As they up the ante, and further empty their wallets, they deliver the standout performances.
Ben Stobber as Rick, and again (though I refuse to give anything away) as Mr. Hamilton, is an absolute hoot. At times, his Rick reminds us of Keanu Reeves but it adds to the humor. Matthew Antonizick as Mr. Hardwick delivers “A Candle Works For You,” with a wonderfully smooth baritone, and is joined by the girls in a dance number that will forever conjure new images whenever you look at a candle again. And, Andrew Young is hilarious in his roles of Mr. Greenfelt and Mr. Biddle.
Don’t be mistaken: This is mature content. But, without the ability to make the characters silly but real, the play wouldn’t work. Performances must be deliberately over-the-top, but not so much that we lose all perspective. It’s the absolute fearlessness of the entire cast to do just that which makes this show fun, and makes it all work.
On a side note: The Onyx Theatre has just concluded their tenth season. In Las Vegas, that’s a milestone to crow about. It’s also found them at a crossroads. As happens with most artistic endeavors, the deep pockets of the original patron(s) do have a bottom. The Onyx team has a new Board of Directors, has filed for 501(c)3 status and, with the assistance of a fiscal agent that immediately makes donations tax deductible, needs your help to stand on its own. After ten solid years, the company deserves it. Contact the theatre for more information.
What: Debbie Does Dallas
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through July 23
5 p.m. Sunday July 10, 17
Where: Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E Sahara Avenue
Tickets: $23 (702-732-7225; www.onyxtheatre.com)
Grade: **** (Delicious)
Producer: Off-Strip Productions; Director: Troy Heard; Set Design: Harry Reams; Costume Design: Cari Byers; Lighting Design: Corey Covell; Sound Design: Don Parnall; Music Director: Andrew Young; Stage Manager: Corey Covell