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Entertainment & Arts

Unauthorized ‘Never Been Kissed’ musical parody is peak ’90s nostalgia

Lana McKissack and Matt Shively in “Never Been Kissed”.
An unauthorized “Never Been Kissed” musical, now playing at Rockwell Table & Stage, stars Lana McKissack and Matt Shively.
(Andrew Gomez)

Josie is 25 years old and nervous about her first day of high school. At least she’s finalized her outfit: a white, feather-lined lingerie robe that holds the promise of a fresh start free of bad teen memories.

The music comes to a pause. She steps forward and takes a deep breath. “I’m not Josie Grossy anymore!” she shouts, to riotous audience applause.

It’s an iconic moment for fans of “Never Been Kissed,” the 1999 romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore as a journalist inexperienced with romance. The beloved movie — which included David Arquette, Michael Vartan and Molly Shannon in the cast — is the latest unauthorized musical parody at the Rockwell Table & Stage. The film’s co-writer Abby Kohn and actress Jordan Ladd were among the opening-night crowd last Saturday.

“Because we have the luxury of not having to be a legitimate musical that leaves people crying, we can turn up the campy tone and the humor,” said director Emma Hunton, also an actress on Freeform’s “Good Trouble.” “We’re really just saying out loud what everyone thinks when they’re watching the movie; we’re in on the joke. It’s a lot of fun.”

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Drew Barrymore in the 1999 film “Never Been Kissed.”
Drew Barrymore in the 1999 film “Never Been Kissed.”
(Fox 2000 Pictures / Photofest)

The action has been relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles; Josie is now a copy editor at the L.A. Times who hopes an undercover assignment will help her become a reporter. Most of the set list — arranged by Gregory Nabours and performed by a four-piece band — derives from the ‘90s, when the main story takes place. One comedic highlight: a sex education lesson featuring a medley of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex,” Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up,” Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself.”

The eight-person cast occasionally flashes back to the ‘80s, when Josie (played by Lana McKissack) was really in high school — a perfect opportunity to revel in Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” while getting ready for her ill-fated prom night. And numerous musical moments from the movie — including the Smiths’ slow dance “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” and the Beach Boys’ concluding “Don’t Worry Baby” — are kept intact.

“This is one of the great teen rom-coms of the ‘90s, and we really want to pick songs that do Josie’s journey justice,” said producer Jordan Ross Schindler. “I love the message that it’s never too late to be who you really are. Yes, that’s easier said than done, and we’re all still on that journey, but I hope anyone seeing this show leaves feeling a little hopeful.”

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Lana McKissack plays Drew Barrymore’s character, Josie.
Lana McKissack, right, plays Drew Barrymore’s character, Josie, in the unauthorized stage musical “Never Been Kissed.”
(Andrew Gomez)

Schindler previously co-created “Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical,” which began as a three-night presentation in 2015. It was soon mounted at the Rockwell and extended three times, making fans of the film’s stars Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Selma Blair and Sean Patrick Thomas.

The parody was a runaway hit, playing eight shows a week off-Broadway, launching a U.S. tour and releasing a cast recording. (It’s also now available for licensing, and Schindler is “excited to see photos of all future Kathryns in their corsets and crucifixes.”)

Though “Cruel Intentions” and “Never Been Kissed” are tonal opposites, the movies were released the same year and hit similarly nostalgic notes. Beyond its Rockwell run through Feb. 23, could “Never Been Kissed” repeat its predecessor’s success?

“Cruel Intentions” didn’t initially seem like it would take off the way that it did, Schindler said. And there would be another complication. Because the Rockwell is an ASCAP licensee, it does not need to acquire the rights to the dozens of songs performed in “Never Been Kissed.” For the show to be staged elsewhere, however, the production would need to secure the rights to those songs.

“Though it’s a lot of work, it’d be — to borrow a line from the film — totally rufus,” said Schindler. “So, right now, this is the show. But who knows — I’ve been surprised before!”

'Never Been Kissed: The Unauthorized Musical'
Where: Rockwell Table & Stage, 1714 N Vermont Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 23 (check for exceptions)

Tickets: $29-$49 (subject to change)

Info: rockwell-la.com

Running time: 2 hours (one intermission)

You always can find our latest theater news and reviews at latimes.com/theater.
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