- Conceived by Susan L. Schwartz . Adapted by Erica Schmidt from the movie “Debbie Does Dallas” by Maria Minestra
- Music by Andrew Sherman
- Produced by Landless Theatre Company
- Directed by Coco McFarlin
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
For those of you who have been anticipating injunctions from the Anti-Sex League, or other manifestations of righteousness, I am obliged to report that Debbie Does Dallas The Musical, is not going to do the job. Unlike the porn classic which inspired it, the musical is a pleasantly cheesy exercise, funny and well-performed. Except for a brief display of the well-tanned backside of Mr. Hamilton, the tennis pro (Ernie Achenbach), there is no nudity, and the movie’s frequent sexual episodes are here represented through music, dancing, and – dare I say it – puppetry.
The plot of Debbie Does Dallas, like the plot of most porn flicks, is itself almost a parody of a real movie, and thus is primed for Landless’ superior satirical instincts. Debbie (Alexandra Claudio) learns that she has been chosen to audition for the Dallas Cowgirls, a professional football cheerleading squad. She can almost taste the moment when she will be earning a munificent $15 a day as a Cowgirl, but first she must raise the cash to get her to Dallas and house her during the tryouts. Together with her cheerleading buddies (Julia Fanning, Allyson Harkey, Jillian Green and, as Debbie’s arch-rival Lisa, Karissa Swanigan), Debbie tries to raise money through conventional means – such as work. They wash cars, they inventory candles, they help at the library. It is not enough. Soon they discover that they can earn more substantial sums by placing their concupiscent (but legal) bodies in front of male lust, and in particular the lust of the pathetic Mr. Biddle (Chad Allen), whose dream it had always been to, while wearing a football jersey, experience la petite mort in the arms of a cheerleading captain.
All this nonsense is punctuated by a medley of melodic, clever songs, often done while wearing brilliantly-designed costumes (Elizabeth D. Reeves), including a set of banana headdresses. The entire cast, and in particular Claudio, is in excellent voice. Claudio, who is spot-on as the good girl who goes bad to achieve her dream, presents an extraordinary sweet lucid sound, powerful and satisfying. Swanigan, who is also excellent as the bad girl who goes worse to achieve her dream of stealing Debbie’s weasel of a boyfriend (Achenbach), has a few numbers which she does superbly.
This show once again showcases the talents of Matt Baughman, who assays half-a-dozen characters. Among them is the candlestick-store owner, Mr. Hardwick (this is not a subtle show), who speaks in an accent never before heard on earth. One of Debbie’s cheerleading buddies (Harkey) discovers a new use for his wares, and…well, you can guess the rest. The backup singers, of course, wear candle headdresses.
The sizeable cast makes good use of the tiny DCAC space. Sensibly, Landless uses recorded music – there is no space for a band – and the cast is perfectly in sync with it. Director McFarlin deserves credit for this, as does her choreographer, Tiffany Ford. In true porn-movie tradition, the characters are all about six millimeters deep, and McFarlin has them revel in their shallowness.
In her acidulous program notes, McFarlin observes that “yesterday’s pornography is pretty much today’s prime time television.” You may, if you wish, use this play to reflect upon the slow pornographication of culture. In Measure for Measure, Isabella, a holy nun, refuses to sell her body in order to save the life of her brother. In Debbie Does Dallas, Debbie, a virgin, sells her body to raise money for a trip. But of course you don’t have to think about that. Just enjoy the show. There’s beer in the lobby, too.
Michael Claudio will make appearances in various roles later in the run. I did not have an opportunity to review his performance, though.
Note: Not for the kiddies.
- Running Time: 1:15 with no intermission.
- When: Thursdays through Sundays until July 5. Sunday shows are at 3; all other shows at 7.30.
- Where: DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
- Tickets: $18. Go to the website.