Bill Robens and Steve Marca, co-adapters and co-directors of "The Towering Inferno--The Musical" at Theatre of NOTE, took on a tall order--every pun intended--when they decided to roast Irwin Allen's 1974 disaster movie "The Towering Inferno." Robens and Marca certainly get points for moxie, as does their huge and ready cast, but the play only infrequently reaches the heights of inspired lunacy required for successful parody.
Before you venture into parody, you must carefully consider the source--and as source material, "Inferno" is innately problematic. The movie's certainly a rattling potboiler by any standard, but whether it has the iconic camp value of, say, "Valley of the Dolls" remains an open question. Also daunting is the movie's sheer heft--almost three hours of nonstop action, fueled by high-tech razzle-dazzle, melodramatic subplots and the kind of lightning-fast scene changes that can only be accomplished on film.
Ingeniously cheesy special effects go a long way toward bridging the gap between film and stage--but those impossibly paced scene changes prove a killer over the long haul, despite the cast's energetic efforts to keep the action lurching along. And calling this vehicle a musical is a misnomer. Marc Antonio Pritchett's original music is too occasional and undistinguished to justify the term.
Spunky performances, however, keep the edifice from collapse. In his role as the architect played by Paul Newman in the film, Stacy Mathewson is particularly noteworthy playing a chisel-jawed stalwart who just can't figure out how all that gasoline got into the sprinkler system. The fire itself is personified by torrid, Fosse-esque dancers--one of the frequent touches of whimsy that keep the action cheerfully flickering if not actively ablaze.
* "The Towering Inferno--The Musical," 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 10 p.m. Ends Aug. 11. $10. (323) 856-8611. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.