STAGE REVIEW : A Fluffy, Fast-Paced Comedy : Theater: There’s nothing new or special about ‘The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall’ by the Lamb’s Players, but it does tickle the funny bone.
Nothing in the story of “The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall” is new or familiar. It was all seen years ago in the film “The Trouble With Angels.”
The upper-crust girls boarding school in “The Utter Glory” may not be run by nuns, as in “The Trouble,” but it does run amok with girls rebelling for the sake of rebelling--only ultimately to find out that the institution that they fight at every available moment has given them the best years of their lives.
The Lamb’s Players Theatre’s San Diego premiere of this failed Broadway musical by Clark Gesner and Nagle Jackson doesn’t go for subtlety either. It is openly and unabashedly cartoonish--an effect director Robert Smyth and his cast are purposely not avoiding.
They go for it with gusto, from Ocie Robinson’s funky set--with its drawings of flower baskets hanging from the ceilings--to the shameless overplaying of stereotypes: from Kerry Meads as the long-suffering, flower-pressing, I-want-to-be-alone headmistress to Deborah Gilmour Smyth as the frightened-as-a-mouse secretary.
It’s as if this 19-character musical is geared for the “Wayne’s World” or “The Addams Family” crowd. Lamb’s seems to be gambling that with school out, families will be looking for something light, inoffensive and funny to share with the kids. Certainly, adults would feel a little less self-conscious laughing at some of the jokes if they brought kids along to laugh with them.
It would all sink to its not so heavenly reward, as tedious cliches are wont to do, if not for the talent on the stage. Lamb’s resident members Meads and Smyth, despite their excesses, are still old pros at eliciting laughs. But what really saves the day are the nine exuberant and talented high school and junior high school kids who play the kids at Morrissey Hall that delight and surprise.
They are the chief glory in “The Glory of Morrissey Hall.”
They never quit. The script calls for them to sing, dance, string each other up upside down, walk around in hypnotic stupors, fire cannons, hide in trunks, rise from trap doors, dance in absurd costumes for a school production of St. George and the Dragon and generally go-go-go for 2 1/2 hours. Not only doesn’t their energy or their timing flag in this demanding, high-speed romp, they are out there during intermission serving up the refreshments and greeting departing crowds looking as if they can’t wait to get back in there and do it all again.
The only “ringer” in the bunch is San Diego State University senior Melissa Smith who plays Carswell, the ringleader instigating much of the mayhem. But she fits right in with the rest, not looking much older than any of the other high school kids.
Their virtues aside, however, this remains all dessert--no main course.
And yet it’s a dessert that yields some delicious moments.
One terrific ongoing gag has Deborah Gilmour Smyth giving percussive aid to the musical numbers while she stays in deadpan character by typing, rattling paper clips, striking a piece of metal with scissors, or banging on the side of her desk as if it’s a drum.
Among the adult cast, Rick Meads proves a scene stealer as a salesman of few words whose jaw drops down as he watches the school shenanigans (while endlessly and fruitlessly waiting for the headmistress).
Like the others, he seems to enjoy his part--with infectious good humor. When he helps with the percussive end of the music by rhythmically shaking out Tic Tacs during a song, the actor himself can barely keep a straight face. Eric Briner, too, seems to have fun donning a wig, pearls and appropriately prissy affectations for the group’s perennial piano accompanist, Mrs. Potts.
The songs, while individually forgettable, get witty treatment from Vanda Eggington’s musical direction and Pamela Turners comic choreography.
Veronica Murphy Smith’s costumes get the characters just right--particularly the schoolgirls with their white shirts, plaid skirts and omnipresent Band-Aid on one knee. Mike Buckley’s lighting keeps swift pace with the action tumbling out of all corners of Lamb’s Players Theatre in the round.
Summertime, and everyone pulls the fluff from their closets. Ah, well. At least Lamb’s also gives an opportunity here to see some of the talent of tomorrow.
“THE UTTER GLORY OF MORRISSEY HALL”
By Clark Gesner and Nagle Jackson. Director is Robert Smyth. Musical direction by Vanda Eggington. Choreography by Pamela Turner. Sets by Ocie Robinson. Costumes by Veronical Murphy Smith. Lighting by Mike Buckley. Sound by David Cochran Heath. Stage manager is Barbara Smith. With Kerry Meads, Deborah Gilmour Smuth, Christine Nicholson, Kathi Gibbs, Melissa Baldwin, Stephanie Banker, Eric Briner, Melissa Smith, Emily Jones, Christine Jugueta, Sarah Zimmerman, Stephanie Escajeda, Courtney Baker, Danica Jones, Nicloe Scipione, Joy McCullough, Rick Meads, Jeffrey Stephens and Pamela Lopez. Tickets are $15-$19 with discounts for groups, active duty military, youth and seniors. At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through July 26. At Lamb’s Players Theatre, 500 Plaza Blvd. Call 474-4542.