I was really looking forward to seeing The Von Pufferhutte Family Singers (the musical) because I really enjoyed the same company’s (I Like Nuts) production of Captain Squishy’s Yee Haw Jamboree last year. I’m sorry to say that this musical about a German family troupe who despise their competitors – the famous Van Trapp Family Singers (from The Sound of Music) because they stole the song “Edelweiss” from them – bit off a “liesl” too much, and frankly “es war nicht zu gut!”
It all started off well with the snappy – yet too long – opening number called “I’d Rather Be Dead Than Not Successful” where we were introduced to all the family members including a dead baby/sibling named Heinz (who is carried around in a container by son Klaus (Josh Speerstra), and his Mom and Dad – Cookie Monster (Belen Pifel) and Helmut (Nick Greek) – and the other kinder (“children” in German) Ronald Reagan (Timothy R. King), Octopussy (Loren Bray, and yes, you got it right – she’s sexy and horny and can’t keep her clothes on), and Goldfinger (Jennifer Speerstra). Each family member shared with the audience how they would kill themselves if they didn’t become famous.
Now, if you find these first names hysterical and yearn for more “dead baby” jokes, and if you can’t wait to hear the cast sing a song about devouring a baby, and you enjoy puke jokes, this is the show for you. At the performance I attended, some of the audience laughed and some stared in disbelief. I was one of those disbelievers.
The problem is that if you want me and the audience to root for the Pufferhuttes, (and not The Von Trapps, who we are told don’t like Asians and are demons), you gotta give us a reason. I mean, who could love a family that banishes one of their own children because she’s too ugly (there are repetitive jokes calling her a boy even though she clearly has recognizable cleavage) and replaces her with a Mariachi Singer (a very funny Jesse Terrill), who never accept responsibility for their own actions, and that is so stupid to choose for their breakthrough audition on “The Eddie Cantor Show” a song about eating a baby? At least Cantor had the sense to banish them from his studio after that “infantile” audition.
Look, the above mentioned cast gave it their all. They were especially good in a song called “Mike Jarboe” about one of their heroes. The remaining cast members Greg Crowe, playing their eccentric agent LaMont Sharkface a la Groucho Marx (with a cigar in his mouth), Christopher Todd as a shocked Eddie Cantor, and Suzannah Wells and Amy Thompson, who played several minor roles, worked hard to get a laugh or two from the audience. Jennifer Speerstra who played the un-wanted daughter Goldfinger, was the only character who wasn’t “cartoonish” and she brought some heart, dignity, and emotion to her performance. I wish composer Deborah Jacobson would have written a song for her after she was banished. Jennifer would have stopped the show (in a good way).
I was pulling on my lederhosen for 75 minutes praying for something “non-dead-babyish” to laugh at and a big finish. Unfortunately, it all went ‘puff’!
The program says, “Get ready for your brain to bleed with joy”! My brain and heart bled for this poor cast. This troupe of local actors (who I admire and whose performances have been the focus of many articles in my Theatre Schmooze column on DCTS) and the audience and I deserved better.
The Von Pufferhutte Family Singers (the musical)
Written by C.T. Davenport and H.F. Greek
Music by Deborah Jacobson
Directed by Heather Gaither-Greek
Reviewed by Joel Markowitz
Running time: 75 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?