Bye Bye, Bye Bye Verdi

WHAT a drag.

The whole thing just sets your head spinning. Clean-cut young Harvard lads decked out as well-endowed women, putting on a musical--an art form that is perhaps the most banal and vapid vehicle in the American cultural desert--for their well-dressed, well-mannered and well-off patrons and friends.

Toss in a ballet dancer whose work epitomizes the cultural ascendancy of Western Civilization, a man who learned his art in Soviet Russia but fled to the West so that he could bring about the long-awaited union of ballet and tap-dancing for the silver screen, and you've got a gala Pudding opening night.

Bye Bye Verdi

Hasty Pudding Theatricals 139

Directed by Michael Allosso

Written by Adrian Blake and Jon Tolins

Black tie, white nights and blue blood.

All in the name of tradition, a grand tradition that our staid 300-year-old University prizes to the tune of a $1 million investment in the building that houses the theater. A tradition it would seem of sumptuous costumes, sumptuous scenery and smutty puns.

Trying to dismantle all of the psychological and socio-economic implications of a Pudding show is a daunting task. Too trying certainly for a sportswriter today turned art critic. So my question will be of a simpler sort. Was it good?

That answer's easy. Awful. It was awful. The first act had some moments and some of the individual performances were strong, one even memorable, but the whole thing was nothing less than regrettable.

It may be that I've gone to so many hockey games that I've become overly sensitive, but this Bye Bye Verdi is downright dirty. And worse, deadly dull.

Even a boisterous crowd of Pudding lovers willing to shell out $50 a seat was unable to generate much enthusiasm for this three-hour ordeal. The audience began getting restless from the start and on one occasion during the second act a particularly loathsome joke yielded a lone cackle from the back row.

A Pudding show is nothing but scatological, sexist claptrap. Done well, the offensive nature of the production is washed away with an endless stream of giggles. If you keep 'em laughing, there's no time to reflect on the preposterous, even revolting ethos.

Everyone enjoys a fast-paced role in the intellectual mud of double-entendres, ridiculous costumes and lyrics, but the humor last night was only occasional and uneven, relying on kielbasa jokes and references to T.V. sitcoms that failed to ignite the well-soused audience.

THE PLOT, such as it was, was a parade of tired parodies. Haughty, back-biting opera stars, spit-crazed country singers, an orange-juice touting evangelist and a cocaine-snorting showman all made their obligatory appearances. Few were more than tired portrayals of long-cliched characters.

The show centered on the union of the financially strapped Opera Winfrey Company and the country-western performers at the Bland Ole Oprey. The two groups join forces then stave of the assault of T.V. minister Holly R. Thanthou. Sounds stupid, huh?

A good thought, stick with it.

The beginning of Bye Bye Verdi is carried by Remo Airaldi who plays the hefty soprano Aida Lottapasta. Airaldi, who was overwhelming in The Skin of Our Teeth on the Loeb Mainstage in the fall, has captured perfectly the grotesque spirit of the Pudding parody. He is resplendent in a purple gown bedecked with link sausages and a headress of large kitchen utensils. His surreal demeanor is playful as he traipses about the stage a sneer--and a snack--always at hand.

If Airaldi and his character are the best thing that the 139th Hasty Pudding Theatricals has to offer, several other performers rise above the material as well.

Cast president Nick Weir as country singer Willie Everstop and Jon Blackstone as soprano Kiri On-Luggage (whose costume is a show-stopper) are a delightful pair of misfit lovers whose voices carry them through the show's strongest duet.

Tim Ashford creates the shallow, simple country singer Crystal Clear. His vacant stares are so absolutely empty that he steals scene after scene with barely a word.

Crystal sets up the obligatory Wellesley joke that is the biggest hit of the evening. Apart from that crack, a reference to Tommy's Lunch and a vague swipe at New Haven, the show lacked its characteristic Crimson tint. Even the presence of the Dean of Students didn't elicit the traditional Archie crack from the cast.

Duvernay also does a fine job with Holly. He is resplendent in lemon, lime and orange costumes and tells the audience "they're special" in drawl that just reeks of late-night T.V. evangelist Ernest Angely.

A particular victim of the script is George Klupko (Colonel O'Korn) who has to utter some terrible lines, but nonetheless manages to slug through the material to the bitter end. Klupko creates a manic melange of Colonel Sanders and Foghorn Leghorn, but his battle with his lines is short-lived and futile.

MUCH of the plot is caught up in replaying the simple overused stereotypes of country singers and evangelists. While Ron Duvernay (also the show's composer) plays Holly R. Thanthou in the classic style, creating an Anita Bryant-Jerry Falwell Frankenstein with a bouffant hairdo and glass of Consecrated Concentrate for everyone.

Jon Tolins, who wrote the show with Adrian Blake (Barry Tones), plays Beverly Hills, the director of the opera. His portrayal of the Jewish prima donna is the best stand-up routine in the show, although his good lines and rapid-fire timing seem a bit misplaced in the generally wooden bumbling.

Like Tolins, Andrew Gardner (Sid Down) has perfect on-stage demeanor. He, like almost everyone else, is victimized by the material, particularly in a scene with Stan Byeme (Ted Stimpson) that has to rank among the show's absolute lowlights. The two actors exchange positions across the stage never seeing one and other. This farce is unbearably long and must be the authors' idea of parody of parody.

Like several other scenes in Bye Bye Verdi, the Sid Down-Stan Byeme exchange seems utterly pointless, serving only to lengthen the production and irritate the increasingly restless audience.

The country performers in particular are completely overdrawn. None is allowed to develop a personality and after initially exchanging remarks like "six packs of tears," "backseat of the pickup truck of love," and "rhinestone cowprod" can find little else to say.

There is a clear absence of really biting satire and the whole second act stands on one joke at the end, a joke that is barely worth the tortuous journey to the finale.

The costumes are, in the Pudding tradition, wonderfully creative and good for some of the shows biggest laughs. Willie Everstop wears a Barn Aid t-shirt and Stan Byeme's cowboy getup is a crackup.

The lighting and resplendent scenery are also equal to the Theatricals tradition. But all the best set in the world can't save the production from its own script.

Duvernay's catchy score draws freely from themes of top T.V. shows, but the lyrics drag the tunes down.

The choreography puts the high-heeled actors through their paces and contributes to the show's irreverance.

Zak Klobucher (Carmen Getit) has the best legs in the show and some of the best lines as the opera's tramp. Tucker McCrady is Tenor Eleven, the lovesick singer, whose camp sighs are overdone with precision.

The lyrics are as uneven as the script, sometimes worth a chuckle--more often not. The full-scale production numbers are entertaining spectacles as the various drag queens parade about to the howls of the audience. The soulful duets are less entertaining.

One tune, Aida Lottapasta's "I'm Hungry in More Ways Than One," is downright gross. You could see members of the audience grimacing at each horrible line of the all-too-explicit song.

The patented Pudding kickline at the end should serve as a capper to the evening's hilarity, a time to consider the humor that has come before. Last night, it was just a confirmation that this edition hasn't lived up to the Theatricals standard.

The plot of Bye Bye Verdi is just too ponderous. There's little quick repartee in the show and sappy lyrics that normally propel Puddinggoers to a night of hilarity.

This time around you can't help getting the feeling that you've seen it all too many times before on Saturday Night Live.

BEFORE the show, Man of the Year Baryshnikov looked awkward and uncomfortable as the Pudding producers joked with him before he got his pot.

Misha has been invited to go back to Russia to perform, but he has declined the return engagement. He is reluctant to talk on the subject, so he declined the traditional Man of the Year press conference.

If he felt uncomfortable before the show, think how he must have felt as he watched this production unfold. A trip to Moscow probably didn't seem like such a bad option anymore.

At least poor Misha didn't have to pay to get in.

Bye bye Verdi, goodbye.