Lagunatics celebrates 30 years of laughing it off
When life gives you lemons, all you can do is laugh?
That’s how Bree Burgess Rosen countered the “nightmare” process of getting an outdoor deck approved by the design review board in Laguna Beach.
Rosen’s creative mind did not let the crisis go to waste. Before long, the wacky but wonderful Lagunatics had been born, a show that made fun of the issues that define discourse in the town.
“I started just thinking about all the quirky, crazy stuff in Laguna Beach, and I had lived here at that point for four years, and the weirdness was abundantly obvious to me,” said Rosen, the founding artistic director of No Square Theatre. “That’s how it started. The first two were benefits for Laguna Shanti, and we did it on the Monday closest to World AIDS Day because we did it on the dark nights when the show wasn’t in production at the Laguna Playhouse.”
The first rule of comedy is that if you’re going to get offended, then you ought not come to the show. With its insider subject matter, Lagunatics can push the local audience to the edge.
Rosen, who insists the roast-of-the-coast musical has never been meanspirited, recalls a couple of occasions where attendees stormed out — the crowd guffawing, apparently fooled into thinking it was part of the act.
In celebrating its 30th anniversary, Lagunatics will be a blast from the past, the numbers representing a selection of the top song-and-dance parodies to hit the stage during the group’s three decades. The nine scheduled shows will have 7:30 p.m. curtains, Friday through Sunday, from March 10 to 26 at the Forum Theater on the grounds of the Festival of Arts.
Topics to be tackled include a fire-preventing goat herd, undergrounding utility lines, parking and, of course, the town’s love-hate relationship with its visitors.
“We have a higher turnout for elections, well above average,” Rosen said. “People here are very passionate about their opinions, and to get them in the theater laughing at the same time at the issues is good for the town. … We had a number one year where we had the City Council, who was in deep disagreement on a few issues that year, we had them in matching pajamas and a bed together.”
Council members will play a part again. Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf went through rehearsal on Wednesday, at times with a car costume around her waist. A frequent viewer of the show, this will be Kempf’s first appearance as part of the cast.
“Most people that go to Lagunatics are aware of the issues around the topics they cover,” Kempf said. “It’s a little, funny twist on things that are happening within the community. It can be absurd after the fact. … Maybe at the time, it seems like a serious thing, but it’s funny after the fact.”
Prepare to see some outrageous outfits. Not only will there be dancing goats, but choir robe-wearing parking meters and toilet paper headdresses. Electrifying telephone poles are also among the favorites of Brigitte Harper, the costume designer for the show.
“That you can get away with stuff that normally you can’t,” Harper said of what makes Lagunatics standout. “It’s all in the name of fun, but there’s a little punchline underneath. … We try to bring awareness to what’s going on in town with a lot of humor and with free speech.”
Ella Wyatt recently took over as artistic director of No Square Theatre in January. When she first moved to Orange County, she worked at a music management company in South Laguna. She has kept up with the talk of the town, enough to be involved in the songwriting process.
“I follow the headlines, and I help Bree write songs,” said Wyatt, set to perform in her 11th Lagunatics. “There’s a couple in this year’s show that I wrote. “When we did the COVID year, that was pretty universal for everybody.”
Chris Fine, making his Lagunatics debut, said there are moments he wants to be taken seriously in acting, but the opportunity to make fun of himself and fellow cast members on stage also had its appeal.
“The general [answer to] why I got into [acting] and why I want to continue doing it is because it was fun when I started,” Fine said. “I will never not do a show that is fun, or sounds like fun, because that’s the love of it is you want to be up there having fun.
“I started doing plays, but musicals, it gives you that singing and dancing that you don’t get in a straight play, where you can just let go and have a lot of fun, and you’re sweating. Singing is food for the soul, and that’s what we get to do on stage and share that with the audience.”
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