‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter’ parodies teen angst
Since the 1970s, the books of Judy Blume have prepared generations of girls for the emotional and biological hurdles on the way to womanhood: The sting of first love, those mysterious undergarments and the harsh reality that not even divine intervention can save you from puberty.
In honor of Blume’s legacy, the Cavern Club Theater in Silver Lake hosts “Are You There God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter,” a musical parody that mashes up memorable moments from Blume’s coming-of-age classic “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” with two dozen hits by the Carpenters. It’s 75 minutes of teen angst meets 1970s soft rock — live onstage.
“You remember how thrilling and horrifying and hilarious it is to be a pre-pubescent teen,” said Carey Peters, who dons a plaid jumper and loafers while channeling Karen Carpenter’s husky vocals in the musical’s title role as Margaret. “But once you learn to be yourself, everything opens up.”
The show’s theme — like the soundtrack — is familiar fare for both genders, said the show’s creator and director Dane Whitlock. “As a man, I can’t relate to buying a bra,” he said. “But what I can relate to is being 12 years old and a new person at school and meeting new friends and having a crush on the cool kid.”
Like the book, the musical follows 11-year-old Margaret as she moves to New Jersey, makes friends, falls in love and eventually becomes a woman — this time around singing tunes like “Close to You” to the boy next door and “We’ve Only Just Begun” to her not-quite-A-cup brassiere.
The nine-person, mostly female ensemble features a lineup of Groundlings alums, with some added Y chromosome from sketch comedy veteran Drew Droege, who dresses in drag as a trio of stereotypical ‘70s mothers.
“I play Margaret’s mom who has this bad, Bonnie Franklin delivery,” Droege said, referencing the star of the ‘70s sitcom “One Day at a Time.” “A crazy pill-popping shut-in who’s expecting hanky-panky all the time from the kids and a swinging key-party mom,” he adds.
Droege is quickly becoming the patron saint of parodies. He created the YouTube video series “I’m Chloe Sevigny,” co-directed the musical reality show spoof “Jersey Shoresical” and starred in a stage adaptation of another of Blume’s novels, “Forever,” which is about a girl losing her virginity.
“I think her books are ripe for parody because we all read them as kids, and they’re so earnest and the characters are so serious,” he said. “It’s fun to make comedy out of them.”
Droege and Whitlock first conceived of “Are You There God, It’s Me, Karen Carpenter” two years ago with the idea of pairing Blume’s book with the decidedly different coming-of-age story: “Go Ask Alice,” an anonymous 1971 dairy of a drug-addicted girl. “It was not exactly the most uplifting story so we decided to scrap it, but I thought the book would make a really funny musical,” said Whitlock.
After sampling a variety of ‘70s pop voices, including Helen Reddy who co-wrote the ‘70s feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” Whitlock decided on the Carpenters. “When emotions get so high in this play and they have to sing about it, what better songs than ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ and ‘On Top of the World’”? he said.
Expect to see Margaret and her pre-teen posse performing bust-augmenting exercises and bra checks, along with other embarrassing coming-of-age moments. Along the way, Karen Carpenter (played by Libby Baker) swoops in like the fairy godmother to wave her magic drumsticks and sing a solo backed by sock puppets made from feminine hygiene products.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously — we are doing a musicalized version of a Judy Blume book,” said Whitlock. “But the show also has heart because along the way our little heroine, Margaret, gets her heart broken. It’s girl gets boy, loses boy, gets boy.”
The show premiered at Attic Theatre in March and sold out its two-week run. In August, the musical opened for a limited engagement at the 70-seat theater in the basement of the Silver Lake’s kitschy Casita del Campo restaurant.
“We’re doing it in a big Mexican restaurant with margaritas flowing so it’s a little wilder, which I love,” said Droege.
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