Posts Tagged ‘magic smoking monkey theatre’

Holiday Stop-Motion TV Extravaganza
Directed by Suki Peters
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
December 1, 2018

Amy Kelly, Ben Ritchie, Joseph Cella
Photo by Ron James
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre is back with all its quirky, unpolished an unapologetically silly approach to pop culture parody. The focus of their latest production is a look back at well-known stop-motion holiday specials from the 1960s and 70s, particularly the now-iconic Rankin-Bass hits Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus. And there are commercials, too!

As is usual for this company, the look and atmosphere is colorful, but not overly polished in terms of production values. There’s an all-purpose holiday-themed set, whimsically painted by Fox Smith, and some clever costumes by Kayla Lindsey that suggest the look of these well-known specials without trying to look exactly like them. The energy comes from the whimsical atmosphere, the period-styled commercials, and slightly twisted and occasionally slightly raunchy approach to the story (mostly PG-13, I would say), and especially the hilarious comic performances. Many of these performers have been in Magic Smoking Monkey shows before, and the atmosphere is enthusiastic and joke-a-minute funny. Also, aside from Santa (Ben Ritchie), everyone plays two or more characters over the course of the two stories presented here. For the most part, the plots follow the specials on which they are based, with a few additions and tweaks–for instance, one source of debate about Rudolph involves the Island of Misfit toys and its not being obvious why Dolly (Payton Gillam), a seemingly typical little girl doll,  is a “misfit”. Well, this show has answer for the that. The jokes range from visual to verbal, and if you don’t laugh at one, there is bound to be another that you will find hilarious.

There’s a great cast here, as well, with standouts being Ritchie’s droll Santa, Amy Kelly’s spunky Mrs. Claus, Shannon Nara in a dual role as Clarice the reindeer and as the no-nonsense Mother Nature, Ron Strawbridge in a number of roles including the competitive Heat Miser, Gillam in several roles, and Joseph Garner as Rudolph. The biggest standout, though, has to be Robert Thibaut, who puts in two scene-stealing performances, first as Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist in the Rudolph story, and then in an old-fashioned song-and-dance act as Snow Miser in Year Without a Santa Claus. There’s a lot of offbeat energy here as usual, and it’s a fun way to appreciate some of the more kitschy elements of holiday pop culture. These two specials are classics, and they’re given a suitably over-the-top, truly hilarious treatment by Magic Smoking Monkey that’s a whole lot of festive fun.

Cast of Holiday Stop-Motion Extravaganza
Photo by Ron James
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

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AFI’s Top 100 Greatest American Films of All Time–A Parody
Written by Shualee Cook, Roger Erb, Chris Jones, and Ben Ritchie
Concept and Direction by Suki Peters
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
July 8, 2017

Ben Ritchie, Roger Erb
Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

I’m really glad there’s a list in the program for this show, just so it was easier to keep track. In typical Magic Smoking Monkey fashion, the company’s latest production, AFI’s Top 100 Greatest American Films of All Time–A Parody is fast-moving and wildly inventive. It’s also extremely funny.

Here, the AFI’s list is taken and given the Magic Smoking Monkey treatment, as the energetic, enthusiastic cast races through the list in reverse order, from Ben-Hur to Citizen Kane, with a bell ringing to indicate the changing of films.  Some are given more time than others, and the presentations range from the literal the more symbolic. It’s a fun experience to watch, and with films as well-known as most of these are, it’s fairly easy to understand the scenes even when I haven’t seen all the films (I checked off the list–I’ve seen 54 of them). The pace is quick, and there are even occasional jokes about that ringing bell, and some crossover jokes between some of the movie parodies. It’s a lot of fun, as usual.

There’s a great cast here, too, making the most of every joke and creating some memorable impressions–figuratively and literally. One of the fun conceits this show uses is to have the same performers reappear when the same actors appear in several different films. Alyssa Ward as Katharine Hepburn and Brennan Eller as Jimmy Stewart are special standouts, but the whole cast is great. Kudos to Rachel Bailey, Roger Erb, Chris Jones, Ben Ritchie, Fox Smith, and Ron Strawbridge for their versatile takes on a variety of film characters. There are also special appearances by Nate Cummings and Morgan Maul-Smith.

The creative team has done a great job as well, with great costumes by Carla Landis Evans, lighting by Justin Chaipet, sound design by Ted Drury, and slides by Dan Foster. It’s all kind of unpolished, but that’s part of the charm of these shows. Also, with the quick pacing, anything can happen, and that element of surprise lends a lot to the humor.

This show is great fun for film buffs and casual filmgoers alike. It’s an uproarious blend of movies and theatre, as well. With Magic Smoking Monkey’s usual wit, style, and goofy charm, this parody is an ideal comic tribute to classic American Film

Alyssa Ward
Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents AFI’s Top 100 Greatest Films of Al Time–A Parody, until July 7, 2015.

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Cannibal! The Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker
Directed by Suki Peters
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
November 29, 2014

Cast of Cannibal! The Musical Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Cast of Cannibal! The Musical
Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

“It’s a Sphadoinkle day”, sings the lead character early on in Cannibal! The Musical, implying that that’s a good thing. Whatever “Shpadoinkle” means, this show is it. In the usual vein of goofy, hilariously over-the-top screen-to-stage performances that Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre is known for, Cannibal! The Musical never ceases to entertain. With a colorful production and an energetic cast, this show is sure to be devoured by appreciative audiences.

This production has its roots in a low-budget 1993 film written by and starring eventual South Park co-creator Trey Parker when he was still in college at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It co-starred his future collaborator Matt Stone and several other college friends, and it has apparently developed a loyal cult following, although I had never heard of it before seeing this show.  The stage version has many of the hallmarks of Parker and Stone’s later work, including raunchy and irreverent humor, crazy musical numbers, jokes about Mormons, and more.  It tells the highly-embellished true story of Alferd Packer (Keith Parker), who was tried for murder and cannibalism as the sole survivor of an ill-fated expedition from Utah to Colorado. Beginning with a sensationalist filmed account of a rampaging Packer basically eating his victims alive, the show then segues into a courtroom scene, as Prosecutor Mills (John Foughty) is peddling the film’s account as fact, and Packer is sentenced to hang.  As he sits in his jail cell, he’s interviewed by reporter Polly Pry (Sarah Porter), and tells his own version of the story, which is a lot more complicated than the prosecutor’s.  It all begins with Packer’s beloved horse, Liane (Betsy Bowman), and an opportunity to lead some miners on their journey to Colorado.  From there, the story follows Packer and his traveling companions–the devout Mormon Shannon Wilson Bell (Chris “Mr.” Jones), the curmudgeonly musical-hating Frank Miller (Ben Ritchie), the young and sex-obsessed George Noon (Sean Green), the pessimistic James Humphrey (Eustace Allen), and the upbeat Israel Swan (Patrick Kelly).  The journey is eventful, to say the least, as they encounter a host of unusual characters and we find out exactly what happened, according to the dejected Packer.

This is one of those shows that just throws out a bunch of jokes in rapid-fire fashion, hoping that at least some of them will land, and a great deal of them do.  It’s irreverent, with some stereotypical humor and caricatures. There’s also the requisite gory humor, although not nearly as much as I had been expecting, and lots and lots of innuendo. While there are some jokes that land better than others, for the most part the show is outrageously funny. The whole business is conducted with an unpolished air that seems to be the norm at Magic Smoking Monkey, although that’s part of their charm.  This cast is certainly enthusiastic, as well, with Keith Parker leading the way as a sympathetically clueless Packer with a strong tenor voice. Porter is well-cast as the plucky Polly, and Bowman gives a memorable performance as the perky, moody horse Liane, “transforming” into a horse simply by pulling a wheeled horse body behind her around the stage. There are also strong performances from Jones as the increasingly unstable Bell, and Kelly as the impossibly optimistic Swan, who gets a fun song and tap-dance number about snowmen.  There’s also a hilarious turn from Jeff Kargus as the cocky Frenchy Cabazon, the leader of a group of pro wrestler-styled trappers, who vies for the attentions of Liane.  There are no real weak links in this large cast, and the real key is the energy and enthusiasm that’s displayed in abundance.

The show is staged at the ornate Ivory Theatre, and its old-time atmosphere provides an ideal setting for this show.  The set, by Brian Peters, and the costumes by Beth Ashby are colorful and appropriate. The set, with its various platforms and recesses, allows for the elements of physical comedy and occasional special effects, all lending to the overall “low-budget movie” air of the play that adds to comedy.  There are also some fun audience immersion moments that are handled with well-timed hilarity.

Cannibal! The Musical is one of those shows that manages to entertain despite (or even because of) the improbability of its plot.  Although this is based on a true story, it’s a highly embellished version that includes set-changing Ninjas (Maria I. Straub, Abigail Lampe), many anachronisms and a whole lot of crude humor.  It’s all engagingly staged, leaving the audience frequently howling with laughter.  There’s one more weekend of performances, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

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The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live
with a special appearance by The Superfriends
Directed by Laura Enstall
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
May 10, 2014

Maxwell Knocke, Suki Peters, James Enstall Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Maxwell Knocke, Suki Peters, James Enstall
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

This show is what would happen if you threw The Twilight Zone, The Superfriends and several hundred more pop-culture references into a mixer and then poured them out on stage before a crowd of enthusiastic spectators. The latest offering from Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, St.Louis Shakespeare’s more offbeat sister, The One Hour Twlight Zone: Live is a fast-moving, low-budget nostalgia trip that both salutes and lampoons its subject matter, presenting outrageously embellished versions of three episodes of two classic TV shows, with a brave, energetic cast who try out seemingly every possible joke they can find while taking the audience along for a truly wild ride.

In a very brief presentation that actually runs for slightly less than an hour, the cast play various roles in presenting two of the best known Twilight Zone episodes, with a comic twist. “To Serve Man” tells the story of a government code-breaking specialist (Jaysen Cryer) and his efforts to decipher a book delivered by the seemingly benevolent Kanamits (represented by a smug, imposing Ian Hardin wearing a robe and plastic Star Trek headpiece), an alien race who introduce all sorts of technological improvements to this planet and invite unwitting Earthlings to visit their planet. This time, however, the “To Serve Man” book is titled in Piglatin, there’s a government translator who never gets anything right, and one guy (Alex Ringhausen) playing all the various world ambassadors.  In “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, the nervous passenger (Hardin) plays the role relatively straight, but his wife (Suki Peters) is a loopy ditz, the flight crew and passengers are all self-absorbed, and the supposedly scary Gremlin (Jaiymz Hawkins) is a clownish troublemaker wearing a fuzzy teddy bear hood. References from decades worth of pop culture are thrown in for good measure. These proceedings are all hosted by the stone-faced Rod Serling (James Enstall), accompanied by some clever wall-projections (including Twilight Zone trivia shown before the show begins) and an extremely enthusiastic cast, all of whom seem to be having a whole lot of fun.

As fun as the Twilight Zone sequences are, however, the real highlight of this show for me is the Superfriends segment, based on an episode called “The Time Trap”. Maybe that’s because I watched that show on Saturday mornings as a child, but I think it’s just the overall craziness of it that makes it so enjoyable. With all the actors playing multiple roles, as both super heroes and super villains, and aided by the hilarious projections including a video game-style fight sequence between Giganta (Betsy Bowman) and Apache Chief (Cryer), this segment is a hyperactive, satirical treat. The super heroes are given broadly cartoonish characterizations–a glib, self-centered Superman (Maxwell Knocke), an airheaded cheerleader Wonder Woman (Peters), a fearless and single-minded Aquaman (Ringhausen) armed with a SuperSoaker, and, my favorite, the gruff Batman (Enstall) and tirelessly perky Robin (Michael Pierce).

The action all moves very quickly, the jokes are of the pay-attention-or-you’ll-miss-them variety, and the presentation isn’t particularly polished, but that’s part of the charm of it all. Visually, the costumes and sets all look cobbled together from whatever the designers (Katie Donovan for costumes, Linda Lawson-Mison for the set) could find. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but I think that’s the point. The whole show has a kind of improvised look and atmosphere that adds to the overall whimsical tone of the piece. It’s a crazy, endearing, multi-referential comic delight  that will transport audiences to a dimension of laughter. The One Hour Twlight Zone: Live is not a show to think too deeply about. It’s just a quick, speedily-paced, colorful and nostalgic good time. I look forward to seeing what Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre comes up with next.


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