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Theater Review: 'Inspired Lunacy'

What is the meaning of life? Basically, it’s one big joke. That’s the big message behind FST's latest musical, “Inspired Lunacy.”

Dennis Kenney, Kathy Halenda, Dane Becker and Don Farrell. Photo by Matthew Holler.
Dennis Kenney, Kathy Halenda, Dane Becker and Don Farrell. Photo by Matthew Holler.
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What is the meaning of life? Basically, it’s one big joke. That’s the big message behind “Inspired Lunacy,” the Florida Studio Theatre’s latest musical — an original, grab-bag of songs and shtick with a side order of philosophy created by Richard Hopkins, Rebecca Hopkins, and Jim Prosser.

Director Hopkins and musical director Ben Krauss set the tone with the high-octane opening number, “This is It,” by Warren Davis, George Malone, and Charles Patrick. (Addicts of Saturday morning cartoons will remember it as the overture to “The Bugs Bunny Show.”) The song tells you: This is a big show full of big laughs. No walking on cracked eggs tonight.

So, ironically interspersed between highbrow quotes by Shakespeare, Socrates and so forth, the tunes by Tom Lehrer, Shel Silverstein, Eric Idle, Allan Sherman and Kander and Ebb paint your brain in varying shades of silliness. There’s the tongue-twisting tirade of Ira Gershwin’s “Tchaikovsky,” the ode to insignificance of Idle’s “The Universe Song,” the manic vaudeville mandate of Nacio Brown and Arthur Freed’s “Make ’Em Laugh,” the pure silliness of Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” (in a medley of other goofy 1960s novelty tunes), with Shel Silverstein’s “You’re Still Going to Die” providing the ultimate punch line.

Gil Brady, Dane Becker, Kathy Halenda, Don Farrell, and Dennis Kenney deliver this silly symphony. These living cartoon characters mainly oscillate between full-tilt vaudeville to doo-wop, but dip into parodies of opera or gospel as the song requires. Brady, the designated, strong-jawed leading man, does a fine lounge singer in “Shall We Join the Ladies?” (as-in creating a Mega-Lady by joining all the ladies on the planet together). Becker has a great voice and shines in the operatic mash-up of Leiber and Stoller’s “Yaketty Yak” and George “Wydell” Jones Jr.’s “Rama Lama Ding Dong.”  Halenda (a strong performer who’s headlined in solo performances of “Sophie Tucker” and “Somewhere Over the Rose” at FST), is the show’s de facto narrator (your guide through this particular Wonderland), when she isn’t belting out numbers like Allan Sherman’s “Good Advice” or Kander and Ebb’s “Ring Them Bells.” Farrell is the pugilistic Everyman—putting up with nonsense and ready to explode in the Jackie Gleason tradition. He’s hilarious in Carl Cicchetti and Donald Claps’ “Beep-Beep,” which posits that scenario in a Cadillac at 120 mph. The rubber-limbed Kenney resembles a young Tim Curry; he can tie himself up in knots, bounce off the floor or take his face through the full range of expressions in a seconds. He’s particularly funny in Lehrer’s macabre “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and the punning parable of Sammy Cahn’s “Maladjusted Jester.” Great performers, who make a great ensemble. They’re clearly having fun — which makes it fun for us.

The unreal world they inhabit is also a lot of fun. Greg Poplyk tricks the actors out in a rainbow of Dayglo suits to match their Converse sneakers. Isabel and Moriah Curely-Clay’s set (with Rob Perry’s lighting design and rear projections) is a “Twilight Zone” hybrid of a planetarium and the ruins of Western Civilization. Christine O’Grady’s choreography suits the show’s full-on vaudeville tone. It’s deliberately show-offy — and all about striking poses and doing stunts at a high level of difficulty.

So, if you need a dose of laughter, these lunatics have just the right medicine. Life is one big joke, as the show reminds us. Of course, this show itself is one big joke, so they might be joking. But if life is not a joke, that means they’re serious, so …

Ah, forget it.

Where’s Bertrand Russell when you need him?




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