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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Laura Hitchcock

If you miss Li'l Abner, Al Capp's cartoon hillbilly, and love Tara Lipinski, teen-age Olympic skating star, have I got a deal for you! Sneaux!, the musical having its world premiere at the Matrix, is the spawn of those two concepts and then some. Satire seems too sophisticated a word and even farce is stretching it. What it is is silly, silly, silly, staged with silky flair by Andy Fickman who directed the musical Reefer Madness.

Amy is a Cleveland teen-ager addicted to Gothic Horror Romance novels to distract her from the pain of being out of it in high school. Desperately wailing "I want to be that girl," she morphs into Sneaux Devareaux, heroine of her current hot novel, and lands in Sneaux's family of Bayou Scum in Commode, Louisiana. Brother Jim loves Sister Darla in that old Erskine Caldwell way and her father Larry decides to sell his children. Sneaux, who dreams of being an ice skater, has found true love in the gawky person of Arbor Lane whose mother Birdie is a skater who has lost an arm and a leg. (Don't ask.) But she decides to let herself be sold/adopted by the falsely fond Poppy and Carl Carlyle. Poppy is a Dolly Parton clone, giving her a chance to sing "Come Get Under My Hair" and Carl is a vet who likes to give girls pelvic exams. Sneaux is locked in an attic straight out of V. C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic author, who writes on even after death, if you can believe the publishers who keep discovering her "notes").

Sneaux fortunately discovers her late mother's diary, which lets her know she's really heir to the throne of France, a la The Princess Diaries . In Book Two, Bitter Frost, she goes to a French skating school, which bears an unscheduled resemblance to the Joffrey Ballet's tribute to Diaghilov. Since that opened only two days before Sneaux!, the production team just got lucky here.

The script is much longer than it needs to be. There are skills to spoofing and camp that don't seem to be mastered by most of the performers, all of whom sing very well. An exception is the excellent Robert Torti as Larry/Bob, who underplays the fine art of leering without pulverizing the face. Kristin Bell, who gets to play Amy/Sneaux straight, is everything a Gothic heroine wants to be, as well as a really good singer. Michael Cunio is practically incomprehensible as Didier, though that may be deliberate. When he breaks into song, however, the lyrics are perfectly clear and his fine delivery is one of the big pleasures of the show. Gil McKinney is actually affecting as Sneaux's tall little brother Jim. As Darla, Christine Lakin's sexual cartoon puts the broad back in broad. Maybe because her portrayal has all the single-minded force of an orgasm in motion, it seems less affected than some of the other characterizations.

Tim Garrick, who wrote the book, uses unattractive mugging to try to give a humorous childlike pout to hero Arden Lane. When he stops that and sings a straight song at the end of the play, he gives a glimpse of stronger talents. The same is true of his play. The best spoofs, such as Hairspray, ring a universal chord because you empathize with the teen-age heroine's lonely displacement. Despite Kristen Bell's appeal, this script doesn't give her anything to work with. Lori Scarlett's music has melodic promise and lively tunes with bounce and body but here again her talent seems underused. There were opportunities for ballads that were never utilized.

The show is overmiked but there are some admirable sight gags from director Fickman, such as blocking Robert Torti to tiptoe up the staircase painted on the backdrop. Alan E. Muraoka's book covers and window effects make the most of the Matrix's tiny stage. Ann Closs-Farley's vivid cartoonesque costumes underline the concepts. After judicious slashing, pruning and delving, we'll be ready same time next yearfor Book Three-Blizzard!

Playwright: Book by Tim Garrick, Music and Lyrics by Lori Scarlett
Director: Andy Fickman
Cast: Kristen Bell (Amy/Sneaux), Christine Lakin (Darla/Sissy Banks/Nurse Baer), Lori Alan (Hannah/Queen Celia), Gil McKinney (Jim/Chaz), Tim Garrick (Arbor Lane), Lori Scarlett (Poppy/Birdie/Lurlene), Paul Nygro (Carl/M. Stolinaya), Robert Torti (Larry/Bob), Michael Cunio (Didier), Max Ciano (Nyetka Stolinaya), Alicia Cox, James Snyder, Rod Weber, Sarah Megan White (Ensemble)
Set Design: Alan E. Muraoka
Lighting Design: Rand Ryan
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Running Time: Two hours forty minutes, one ten-minute intermission
Running Dates: June 28-August 3, 2003 -- extended to September 28th
Where: The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, ph: (800) 595-4849.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on June 28.
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