THE RECIPE is simple enough: Combine one part humor with three parts bombast, mix in a double dose of double entendre and two bushels of fake boobs. Sprinkle liberally with groaning-bad puns, then leave in a hot theatre until half-baked.
Voila, another edition of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals.
The 1991 Pudding show, Safari Sagoodi, is a testament to what a few talented undergraduates can do with just their imagination, a little pluck and a $300,000 budget. And a professional director. And a professional choreographer. And a professional set designer, music supervisor, lighting director and costume designer. And two professional music arrangers. (Did we mention imagination and a little pluck?)
What they can do is a lot--a lot of pyrotechnics, a lot of snickering sexual innuendo and a whole stage full of boisterous entertainment.
Yes, the Pudding show is entertaining. Face it, you're not going there for an Aristotelian evocation of cathartic pity and fear. You're going there to hear bawdy jokes and to see your male classmates in drag.
And you will. Safari Sagoodi fulfills that mandate and more.
SET IN 1940S HOLLYWOOD, the Golden Age of the Silver Screen, Safari Sagoodi follows the travails of Tinsel-town's "most inept film factory," the Stu-Stu Studio, as it plunges toward bank-bank bankruptcy. The studio's ruthless Head Honcha, Annette Prophet (Glenn Kiser '91) has given her staff one more chance to crank out a blockbuster before the studio's creditors shut it down.
For the final fling, she has brought in the famed British "introspectionist" director Lyce Cameron Aixion (Andrew Dietderich '91) and a crew of has-beens and never-will-be's to produce a script written by Wellesley grad and former romance novelist Ella Menopy (Laurence O'Keefe '91). Between the ineptness of the camera operator and the devious schemes of some ambitious, back-stabbing thespians, the movie "Safari Sagoodi" appears doomed to failure.
Can Lyce keep his cast from killing each other? Will the film get made? Will the cameraman (Shelby Kamanrandamantan, played by John Ducey '91) ever successfully seduce the sexy secretary (Heidi Hydiehydiehi, played by Ian Henderson '93)? Will the Stu-Stu Studio survive?
Give us a break. Of course they will. But only after a few plot twists that, unfortunately, are not quite as humorous as they are contrived. ("Plot" in Pudding shows is just a euphemism for "getting from one musical number to the next," just as "dialogue" is just the words that fill in the spaces between the puns.)
SAFARI SAGOODI is proof of the saying that you get what you pay for. Those elements of the show that were bought on the open market were unavoidably outstanding. The costumes and sets were diverse and eye-catchingly extravagant. The music captured the flavor of 1940s cinema. The choreography betrayed its professional origins: It included two performers dangling by their ankles from the ceiling, another sailing across the stage in apparent flight, and a winsome scene of Heidi dancing with a coat tree.
Three solid weeks of rehearsal under the tutelage of a professional director produced an imaginative, slick and well-oiled show. The pit orchestra, too, was smoothly integrated into the production. The result was a pretty solid cast and pretty good script leveraged into a first-rate production.
Danny Singer '92 is appropriately slimy as leading man Mel O'Drama. With his slicked back hair, slicker voice and perfectly trimmed moustache, Singer plays God's gift to the world with a natural arrogance that only a Harvard student needn't affect.
Jason Tomarken '91 is convincing as Barbara Seville, O'Drama's getting-past-her-prime leading lady who stands about a foot taller than Singer, to humorous effect. Tomarken is one of the few female parts who masters the art of feminine mannerisms.
Glenn Kessler '92 plays Maximillian Bucks, the gruff producer with a South Side accent. Like Ed McMahon, Kessler is condemned by this script to be the set-up guy--a great personality and few funny lines.
Jeremy Nye '94 plays the nerdish studio accountant, Linus Pockets, who speaks in incomprehensible alliterations and wears only plaid. Nye pulls off without a hitch tongue-twisters like this one: "Stu-Stu Studio stock has slipped significantly, suggesting a single, sudden smash success is the solitary studio-saving scenario." Unfortunately, his role is limited to rushing onto the stage with periodic bad news.
Adam S. Geyer '93 (Helena Handbasket) and Peter Ferren '92 (Dinah Meetcha) are in dispensible roles as Mel's doo-wopping back-up singers, popping up periodically to explain the plot's complexities (we use that word loosely).
The most intriguing character is actress Angie Nous (Mo Rocca '91), a leftover from the Roaring Twenties, who smokes from a three-foot-long cigarette holder and resembles Norma Desmond from the movie Sunset Boulevard. Rocca's portrayal of Angie's dementia is the histrionic highlight of the show.
Pulling down the curve is Richard Claflin '91 as Ivan Tuthrey. The character says he's old. You can't tell it from his movements. He is supposed to be Russian. You can't tell it from his accent. He is supposed to be a choreographer. You can't tell it from his dancing. We kept waiting for the moment when he would cross his arms, squat down on the stage and do the Russian folk dance that would justify his presence in the show, but it never happened.
The cast is rounded out by Todd Forman '92 as Jean Jacquette, a scheming, Valentino-like lover; Bart St. Clair '93 as Evelyn Seid, his partner in crime; and T.J. Mitchell '91 as Gordon Bleu, the "Parisian chef" who hails from Paramus.
LIKE THE CAST, the musical numbers ranged from astonishingly good to merely puzzling. Rocca's solo number, "The Cutting Room Floor," showcased one of the performance's best voices in a song that combined humor and a touch of melodrama. (In Pudding shows, the comedy requires melodramatic relief.) Also impressive were Dietderich and Kaiser's well-executed "Deja Voodoo" and Tomarken and St. Clair's hilarious "Cats."
On the other extreme were the boring "Ennui Comes, Off We Go" and the pointless "Put Some Rhythm in Your Method." In the latter, Ducey's Shelby, who strikes us as a poor imitation of "Woody" on Cheers, does a soulless soft-shoe routine to win Heidi's heart. And although Safari Sagoodi contains mercifully little gratuitous sexism compared to recent Pudding shows, the "Heidi's Chronicle" number--in which the dumb secretary laments that she can't find a man--strikes us as questionable.
"Jungle Love," a musically mediocre number, is redeemed by fantastic choreography and an imaginative set that includes a flaming cauldron and a troop of cannibals wearing bras made of skulls.
BUT TAKE AWAY the expensive flash and pizzaz and what's left is a collection of some of the most horrible, groaning puns you've ever laughed yourself sick over.
Annette Prophet [reassuring the actors]: "No one's 'getting the boot.' Why, I'd feel like a heel! Our people are the sole of the Stu-Stu Studio. That's what separates us from our arch-rivals."
Mel O'Drama: "Uganda magine the things I've been through. You wouldn't Bolivia eyes!"
Barbara Seville: "Wow--Uruguay who likes Lebanon the edge."
Mel: "Well, you gotta Libya life with New Zealand excitement every day."
Where puns fail, running gags take over. The best of the lot is Annette's tendency to interrupt Maximillian and never finish his thoughts. Sample:
Maximillian: "Does that mean we're--"
Annette: "No, that doesn't mean we're."
THE JOKES wear thin at times, and the slickness of the production occasionally detracts from the playful spontaneity that have historically made Pudding shows so fun to watch. With $300,000 to spend on a production, one can lose sight of the fact that it's young men dressed up like mommy up there. Hasty Pudding Theatricals could spend a million more and it still wouldn't be great theater.
It would have been interesting to see Safari Sagoodi with its glitz budget cut in half and the effort devoted to the actual performance doubled. We suspect we would have laughed more.
We would also have liked to see a Pudding show that bucked the recent trend toward vapid sexual humor and returned to the good old days when the productions were satire as well as burlesque.
But the proof of the Pudding is in the laughs, and Safari Sagoodi doesn't fail in that respect. "Don't worry about the substance, 'cause we've got tons of style," the cast sings in "Gilt Complex," the opening number. The rest of the show bears out that prediction.
John L. Larew '91 and Joshua M. Sharfstein '91 were editorial chairs of The Crimson in 1990.