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Up Your Ante
By David Javerbaum and Chip Rossetti
Music by Randall Eng
At The Hasty Pudding
YOU DON'T GO to the annual Hasty Pudding Theatricals production to see gut-wrenching drama or incisive social commentary. You don't go to see professional acting, professional singing, professional dancing. You don't go to see a plot.
You go to the Pudding show to see just that--a show. A spectacle. Big, hairy guys wearing skimpy dresses, disguising their husky voices, wiggling their butts, behaving like goofballs, inverting the social order. You expect professional costumes, professional sets, professional lighting. You expect a good time.
"Up Your Ante!" is everything you ever wanted in a Pudding show and more. Admittedly, not much more. But this self-conscious, self-referential, self-indulgent spoof of the Las Vegas casino scene is a damn good time. And buried somewhere among its hilarious deluge of puns, malapropisms and campy pop culture references, it even retains some semblance of what might be called a plot.
WHICH GOES SOMETHING like this:
A slimeball tycoon named Donald Grump (played with ooze and flair by Tom Hughes) is trying to cheat a nice old lady named Isadora Jarr (Jeremy Nye) out of her casino, the Tropicana Pure Premium. Jarr needs a million bucks to escape bankruptcy. Coincidentally, Grump's Chicken McNugget Casino is hosting the Miss Fortune Beauty Pageant--first prize, $1,000,000! Coincidentally, the Tropicana's headline trio of tonsorially challenged sisters--Mona Lott (Mark O'Keefe in a big red wig), Liza Lott (Mike McNeal in a big black wig) and Cara Lott (Peter Ferren in a big blonde wig)--have entered the pageant! Imagine that!
The plot--or at least the reasonable facsimile thereof--thickens. Grump is backing his own babe, Delia Cards (Aaron Zelman), the thoroughly corrupt golddigger with whom he sings "It's Good to Be Evil." (Sample lyrics: "Being kind is kinda stupid/ Being just is just as dumb.") So Grump tries to blackmail the pageant's judges: Wyatt Stinksinhere (a Yosemite Sam parody played by Michael Rosenbaum), Austin Tation (a Don King parody played by Todd Kessler) and Ali Caneet (a Muhammad Ali parody played by Skip Sneeringer).
All right, so it isn't exactly Hamlet. But did Hamlet have such cool character names? And did Hamlet have a hilarious subplot featuring a repressed Catholic schoolgirl named Sheila Stound (Richard Claflin, the president of the Theatricals) and a nagging nun named Sister Maticdestruction (Adam Geyer) who likes to hit things with her Bible? Things like slot machines? Huh?
Authors Chip Rossetti (book) and David Javerbaum (book and lyrics) also made sure to include Lotts of love interest. (That was a horrible pun. Take a whole bunch of them, add panty hose, and you've caught the essence of "Up Your Ante!") Slutty Mona Lott hits it off with Collier Bluff (Todd Forman), the dorky Tropicana dealer who "doesn't know his ace from a hole in the ground." Compulsive name-dropper Liza Lott goes for compulsive gambler Roland Dice (Don Davis). Screechy Cara Lott goes for geeky Brandon Ewday (Ian Henderson).
Capping off the cast are the pageant's cohosts, the Elvisesque Alberto V. O'Five (John Berman) and the Sally Jessy Raphaelesque Jeannie Ality (Bart St. Clair). There are no Sally Jessy Raphaelesque characters in Hamlet. No way.
WHAT'S SO FUNNY about guys in drag? How does the Pudding get away with the same formula--silly pastiche plus falsies--year after year?
To answer the first of these annual questions, nothing. (Exception: Gov. William F. Weld '66 in drag is funny in and of itself. He played the female lead in 1966.) To answer the second, it doesn't. You need more than an all-male kickline and a torch song to keep an audience entertained for two hours. Tradition doesn't cut it alone. This is what cuts it:
The Spectacle: You want musical numbers? Geyer's rendition of "The Wages of Sin" is a show-stopper, although the song sounds suspiciously like "Light of the World" from Godspell. St. Clair does a great job with the show's obligatory torch song, "Agent Provocateur."
You want snazzy backdrops? One scene is played in front of the Grand Canyon. "The Wages of Sin" is delivered in front of a chapel decorated with stained-glass tributes to St. Elvis, St. Cher, St. Frank (Sinatra) and St. Wayne (Newton). The finale happens at the Hitch `n' Run Marriage Parlor/Ditch 'n' Run Divorce Parlor (Mottos: Wedding for Good Dough/May Divorce Be With You).
You want flamboyant, outlandish costumes? Come on. We're talking about The Pudding. This is what they do.
Funny Wordplay: Celery cuts. Roll models. Oil of Ole. Either ore. Jocular straps. Gambling through the woods. Getting chaste around a convent. Serving alcohol to miners. Javerbaum and Rosetti dig this kind of joke. Don't like puns? Stay home.
Meta-Humor: This Pudding show never lets you forget you're watching The Pudding show. "I feel like breaking into an orchestrated song with lots of choreography," Henderson says at a particularly romantic moment. Searching through Grump's office in the dark, the characters happen upon...a nine-piece band. When Jeannie Ality reveals that she is in fact Prince Spaghetti, the response is automatic: "A man dressed as a woman? Silliest thing I've ever heard."
There are lyrics about intermission, lyrics about the finale. There's an unsubtle reference to Pudding People of the Year Jodie Foster and Michael Douglas. There's even a joke about the Pudding's annual spring break trip to Bermuda.
Don't like this blatant postmodernism? Stay home. I happen to think it's pretty cool. It gives the audience a weird relationship to the spectacle. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit that I already have a weird relationship with this spectacle. It was written in my apartment last summer. But it's still a kick-ass show).
THE SHOW is not perfect. Some of the musical numbers suffer from Saturday Night Live disease: great comic ideas that peter out by the end. The choreography is underwhelming. Composer Randall Eng's music has some memorable moments, but not enough of them. Even some of the dialogue falls flat. (Example: "I could never lie in your presence. I can only lie in your arms.")
But you don't go to The Pudding show to see perfection. You go to have fun.
Don't like having fun? Stay home.
Michael R. Grunwald '92 was Editorial Chair during 1991. It is Crimson tradition for the outgoing Ed Chair to review the first performance of the annual Hasty Pudding show.
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