Year after year “Lagunatics” has been like a backhanded compliment, jovial but just a little bit prickly.
This year there is more prick in the prickly — and it mostly works.
The 26th annual musical parody has apparently absorbed the political energy in the air because it is a more cerebral, biting review and yet still showcases its amusing musical chops.
Most of the skits were written by Chris Quilter, along with Rebecca Lyles. Several others contributed, including Rufino Cabang, Bree Burgess Rosen, Ella Wyatt and Bridget English.
By its nature, the topics always spoof Laguna Beach’s idiosyncrasies, but this year marks a particularly deeper focus — perhaps due to the upcoming election. While you don’t have to live within the city limits to get the jokes — or barbs — it does help.
Quilter agreed in an interview after opening weekend that his quill was sharper this year.
“Yes, there’s just so much meanness around right now,” he said. “As a community, we are more vocally enraged with one another than I have seen in some time. It sort of feels like we have a little bit of the national disease now on the local level.”
Never one to draw too much blood, he hopes audiences will appreciate the humor, regardless of political persuasion.
“I hope some of our numbers have serious underpinnings,” he said. “I think it’s very fun to acknowledge both positions in a number.”
Right off the bat, the first few numbers poked sticks at the city’s apparent malaise, such as “The Influencers/Laguna State of Mind.” Playing off Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” the young singer Charlee Rubino explained how the visitor’s bureau is thinking about hiring a social media influencer — as if the city needs more tourists.
So she decides to become a “counter-influencer.” The irony is she’s just describing the reality of Laguna in social posts.
“Let’s forget our pride,” she sings. “It’s much nicer in Newport Beach or in Oceanside. So many awful reasons this village has declined. That’s my Laguna state of mind.”
As in every musical, it’s hard to evoke the softer side of the songs in print. The lyrics in verse take on a more polished, razor’s edge.
Plus there are the costumes, which have improved greatly due to a financial gift from the Festival of Arts Foundation.
Rosen said it’s been nice to incorporate more complex costumes.
“The costumes are really over the top this year,” she said. “Brigitte Harper has done a spectacular job, with the help of Dixie Massaro as a seamstress, and Susan Elliot Richardson making a few of them from scratch. I’m in charge of rhinestones.”
Rosen added that the show’s cast is the smallest it’s ever been, which concentrates the talent but also creates production headaches.
“If you’re not on stage singing and dancing, you’re in the dressing room ripping your clothes off — or your parking meter, goat pants, car, power pole, flower, fertilizer bag, starfish or tree,” she said.
Indeed, more than any other year, the audience seemed to wait eagerly just to see the performers’ costumes.
Certainly “Lagunatics” is a concerted effort that combines costumes, music, writing and talented performances.
For Quilter’s part, every year he is amazed that Laguna provides him with enough material.
“This is the town where nothing gets done — very, very slowly,” he said. “There’s something about our way of life that keeps us from evolving. I suppose if the town got more done, we’d have to stop the show.”
In addition to the inertia, Quilter said, the city’s attempts at good outcomes are not necessarily better. Public art, for example, was once again lampooned in the song, “A Waste of Money,” which was a spinoff of the somewhat obscure 1960’s song “A Taste of Honey.”
“Pop-up art can be just fine. It helps if it’s not asinine,” sang Marc Marger.
The snarky asides and under-the-breath quips are the hallmarks of parody. But this year it felt different. It’s as if we’re either more sensitive or less sensitive. I can’t tell which.
Quilter agreed that this year was a challenge — and an opportunity.
“A lot of people feel the balance has shifted but they don’t quite know who to blame,” he said. “One thing you can do is blame everybody. Or you can blame Irvine, for heaven’s sakes. You can always blame Irvine.”
The show runs on weekends until Oct. 28. For more information visit nosquare.org.