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A CurtainUp Review
Debbie Does Dallas
By Elyse Sommer
Janet: "Let's go see that new musical Debbie Does Dallas?"
Brad: "Wasn't that a cult movie like the one about us?"
Janet: "Yes, but this was a porno flick that you won't even find listed in Maltin's Movie Guide" or the Videohound's "Cult Flicks & Trash Pics."
Brad: "A porno flick!? Are they running out of movies to adapt?"
To get back to my review, no Brad, there's no shortage of movies. But all these screen to stage adaptations have producers scurrying around for the new-new thing that will get young folks like you and Janet out of the movie houses and into the legit theater. So that's why they've decided to dig into the x-rated film archives. But that's not all. With actors like Stanley Tucci and Edie Falco baring their all on Broadway, even porn needs a special angle to make it an event. That's why the powers behind this show asked themselves "why not make naughty nice and add a satirical twist?" Why not indeed -- and what better porn flick to initiate this new subverted forbidden fruit genre of pop-porn than Debbie Does Dallas which owes much of its success to college kids who always regarded it as more funny than erotic.
As Jason Zinoman, in an advance piece on the show (NYTimes 10/27/02) put it, "Finally, porn you can take your grandmother to." Right you are Jason. This grandmother has seen a lot more nitty gritty stuff. While the irreverently kitschy Debbie, ideally situated in the atmospheric Jane Street Theater, is designed to appeal to a core audience that fits that much sought after twenty to forty-year-old demographic, anyone over the age of consent will recognize the parallels between the tongue in cheek told adventures of Debbie and her friends and Monica Lewinsky's real life, non-penetrating romance with our former President.
Debbie Does Dallas originated at New York's Fringe Festival. Its story line then as now at once follows and spoofs the movie, but the pop-porn Fringe comedy now has enough music and choreography to qualify as a musical (well, sort of), or, to stick with my nomenclature, a pop-porn-sical. As popcorn makes no claim to being anything but harmlessly enjoyable junk food, Debbie Does Dallas is still suggestive and with enough tasteless jokes to retain its smutty image.
What Debbie actually does is what many pursuing the American Dream do. She persuades herself to modify her principles to make that dream come true. For Debbie, an eighteen-year-old small town high school in small town USA anywhere the dream is to become a Dallas Cowgirl, the cheerleader's pinnacle. While Debbie's S.A.T. scores are unlikely to rank with those of students aiming for Harvard Yard rather than Dallas, she does have enough on the ball to get invited to hip-hip-hurray for the Cowboys. When her disapproving parents refuse to finance the fare, she also shows enough get up and go to rally her four best friends to help her earn enough money to get there. The friends are not rocket scientists either but there's a subversive touch of feminism in their entrepreneurial wit and wisdom, especially since their boyfriends are high testesterone jerks and the men who buy into the girls' "Teen Services" are bumbling creeps.
The money making endeavors begin with conventional part-time jobs like clerking in a candle store and working at the library (sort of an older version of the middle school friends of the popular baby sitter club book series). But faced with the low yield of these minimum wage jobs, Debbie and her pals decide to turn the sexual favors now given gratis to their boyfriends into "Teen Services." Their bosses are only too willing to pay and pay well even though what they get doesn't jeopardize the virginal status quo -- at least not until going the final nine yards brings Dallas and the Cowboys that much closer.
If all this sounds silly and ridiculous, it is. But Sherie Rene Scott as Debbie once again proves that she can make rhinestones sparkle like genuine diamonds. If you saw Aida (Our Review) you'll recall that princess with a pea for a brain was one of the best reasons to see that musical. Her acting and singing also enriched last season's musical two-hander, The Last Five Years (Our Review). Scott is limber enough to be a convincing high school co-ed even though she's in her early thirties and she brings out the best in the pleasant songs by Andrew Sherman that are part of a pre-recorded score.
The show could easily be entitled Debbie, Lisa, Tammy, Donna and Roberta Do Dallas since the performers playing Debbie's co-cheerleaders and "business" partners are crucial to the show's energy. Their matching outfits notwithstanding, the performers manage to differentiate their characters. Mary Catherine Garrison's Lisa, stands out as the raunchiest member of the quintet, is a Kristin Chenoweth look and sound-alike.
As for the guys, the male characters may be dolts, but Paul Fitzgerald, Del Pentecost and Jon Patrick Walker deftly handle the dozen male roles. Fitzgerald, whose plate is heaped highest, especially funny.
Jennifer Cody has created a challenging opening number for the five cheerleaders, but the rest of the show doesn't dance all that much. Juman Malouf's costumes are fun (especially Debbie's plastic bra-within-a-bra) and lighting designer Shelly Sabel's title displays at the side of the stage clarify what's going on inside the various characters' heads.
Don't let the similar Fringe beginnings lull you into expecting Debbie Does Dallas to be another Urinetown (Our Review), also produced by the Araca Group. Besides being an original invention rather than a piggy-back idea, Urinetown's satire has a rich bite, its libretto and score is distinctive and witty and its choreography spectacular. Debbie and her friends have great looking, cheerleader-perfect legs -- but in show business terms, those legs aren't sturdy enough to carry this little show any further than the stage of the Jane Street Theater where the size of the venue and the seedy nightclub aura is likely to keep Debbie doing Dallas for a healthy run.
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