If you’re looking for a traditional romantic comedy, stop right here…TACT has your ticket to a light-hearted evening of laughter, delightful costumes, and a wealth of talent with its production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
The story is as old as time itself…a deal with the devil…think Faust, Damn Yankees, The Devil and Daniel Webster, et al. This story is unexceptional in that Hollywood is filled with people willing to do anything for their five minutes of fame (and plenty of devious enablers to help them achieve it)…but unique in that it joyfully makes fun of itself and the industry. Ironically, acclaimed playwright George Axelrod penned this gem of a script long before Hollywood gave him the short end of the proverbial stick.
Movie magazine columnist George MacCauley gets the opportunity of a lifetime: an interview with 1950s screen siren Rita Marlowe. Sent to her hotel suite, he finds himself lost in the revolving door of powerful men…the movie mogul, the playboy screenwriter, and the alluringly powerful agent. He wants to impress the starlet but realizes he has nothing to offer…and then the agent makes him an offer he can’t refuse…a wish, in return for a mere 10% of his soul. One wish leads to another and soon he finds himself rich, famous, dating Rita, and barely in ownership of his soul. Will our hero allow himself to completely go over to the dark side? You’ll have to see for yourself.
Kari Ginsburg (Rita) has made a careful study of the blonde bombshells of the period, and she excels in capturing the indefinable essence that made Jayne Mansfield famous. She’s got the affected speech, the bodacious body, and the all important wiggle. She’s also unafraid to be silly, and that’s when her caricature becomes even more appealing, strutting her stuff for a gaggle of enamored men in her feather embellished towel, looking elegant at the Oscars, or playing Joan of Arc in a priceless getup.
In a small role as an efficient Tinseltown secretary, Leigh Anna Fry is a darling. She gives dimension to a character who might easily fall into the ‘file and forget’ category. One can see her at home in curlers, watching the stars on tv, feeding her five cats and writing Miss Lovelorn letters.
Watching this cast work together is like witnessing several fantastic sports plays. Each time an entrance is made, that new character takes over the spotlight effortlessly without stealing anyone else’s thunder. It’s natural, and the staging by director Ellen Dempsey is flawless. There are great nuances where her influence is keenly felt, not the least of which is the overall flow of the production. In fact, the show flies by in spite of its two intermissions.
John Tweel as the flavor of the month writer Michael Freeman is witty and charismatic. His character goes through the biggest conversion during the course of the play, and Tweel makes Freeman both human and believable. Donald Osborne as nerdy interviewer extraordinaire McCauley fits his role perfectly, remaining in character with hilarious expression.
Nobody plays endearingly cranky like veteran actor Craig Miller, and as powerful studio head Mr. Kaye, he infuses life into every scene with his gruff delivery. His mock Oscar acceptance speech is a highlight of the show, milking every moment for all its worth. James Finley in an all too brief cameo is awesome as Rita’s soon to be ex husband Bronk Brannigan. His dumb lug act is hysterical, and the fight choreography (Steve Lada & Chuck Norris) between him and MacCauley is outstanding. Finally, Steve Lebens IS the Devil. Without ever falling prey to cheap theatrics or goofy melodrama, Lebens uses his melodious baritone, expressive face, and smooth gait to convey the sinfully charming Dark One.
The set design by Anndi Daleske is functional and simply furnished and a vivid color palette. The lighting (Jason Aufdem-Brinke) is beautifully designed, setting mood and tone without becoming a distraction. Rip Claassen’s costumes are artfully done. The menswear is period appropriate and dapper, Miss Logan’s dresses are adorable, and Rita’s outfits are fabulous.
Don’t miss Artistic Director Jack Marshall’s audience guide…it’s chock full of unique factoids and humorous insights that would never see the light of day without his careful research and knack for unearthing the unusual.
Rock Hunter is not a deep, thought-provoking work. Don’t go in hopes of a brilliantly twisted plot or grand dramatics. Go because you want a night of fluffy fun that’s simply “divoon”. It’s okay to kick back and revel in an uncomplicated plot. It’s good for the soul, pun intended.
*Disclaimer: McCall Doyle performed at The American Century Theater in 2008. It has in no way influenced her thoughts on this show.*
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
by George Axelrod
directed by Ellen Dempsey
produced by The American Century Theater
reviewed by McCall Noelle Doyle