The real housewives are everywhere, in Atlanta and Beverly Hills, in Dallas and Orange County, some of them desperate, and every one of them strangely comfortable living in front of a reality TV camera crew. The various versions of the "Real Housewives" shows have touched a cultural nerve, making it ripe material for the theater.
A musical version of the real housewives scenario arrives onstage this month at the Falcon Theatre for previews of the heartfelt parody "Real Housewives of Toluca Lake." The show is designed to be named and shaped for the community of whatever theater in which it's being performed.
"All my friends and all sorts of people watch 'Real Housewives,' for better or for worse," says Molly Bell, who wrote the book, lyrics and music. "People either love the train-wreck of it, or they love to watch something they don't have that these women seemingly have."
Bell initially thought of writing an opera around the idea, but chose to remain in her musical theater comfort zone. "Real Housewives of Toluca Lake" is her second piece — the first was a "send-up" of pop singer Britney Spears — and was first produced two years ago in Walnut Creek, Calif., where Bell also starred in the lead role.
Director Roger Bean saw that show and soon suggested bringing it to the Falcon, where he is now directing the "Toluca Lake" version. This time, Bell chose to focus her six weeks in town on her role as writer and never seriously considered performing in the play.
"It was important that I take a step out and just be here as the writer," the Bay Area-based writer-actor says. "Obviously, the book, the lyrics, the music — it's a lot of hats to wear anyway. To add leading actress to that was really stressful the last time. I thought I would grow more as a writer and just came here to work on the script. It's been an awesome experience."
Her "Real Housewives" show has a cast of five women and one man — one who inhabits all the male characters onstage. "He has 20-plus roles that he plays," says Bell with a laugh. "He's busy."
Bell notes that the play is full of music and comedy, but that she made a point of looking at the characters and the women who participate in reality TV series as real women. What happens on the screen isn't always fun or pleasant.
"It was important not write something that was just a fluff piece. It's more interesting to go to the theater and see an actual story," she says. "We certainly hit all those funny things that you'll find in the reality television world, but at the heart of it is a message."
She hopes to draw as many traditional theatergoers as "reality television junkies" to the Falcon, which begins previews of "Real Housewives of Toluca Lake" on March 23. Official opening is April 1.
"It is a parody of the reality show 'Real Housewives,' but really what it ends up being is more a less a story about five women. One woman in particular finds out her husband has done something bad, and what happens when you lose everything and chart your way back up."
What: "The Real Housewives of Toluca Lake: The Musical"
Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank
When: Previews March 23-31; opens April 1; through April 24.
More info: falcontheatre.com, (818) 955-8101
Steve Appleford, email@example.com