Directly on the heels of the wacky "CHiPs the Musical" comes the Troubadour Theater Company's noticeably more sedate "A Wither's Tale." Almost a one-man show for founder Matt Walker, Shakespeare's romance gets a heartfelt and moving homage injected with all the expected side-splitting one-liners. It's just packaged a bit differently, significantly melancholy when compared to what we usual get from this gang of literary miscreants.
The Troubie's constantly improving mash-ups combine classic works of pop culture with specific song catalogs from music's best singers. "A Wither's Tale" marks a return to their best source material, the plays of William Shakespeare. The bard's somber saga gets fused with the tunes of Bill Withers, the soulful crooner best known for "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me." I was actually surprised how many other chestnuts Withers has in his discography.
But like the best Troubie productions, as long as they remember "the play's the thing," all the other elements like music and satire flow super easy.
When I first spied the gloomy set design, I felt something extremely different was in store this time around from Walker and his cohorts. Then right before show time, he picked up a microphone backstage and started embarrassing latecomers entering the Falcon Theatre auditorium. A favorite gimmick of Walker's, these hi-jinks are noticeably absent for much of "A Wither's Tale."
"Ain't No Sunshine" just about sums up the life of jealous King Leontes (Walker) after he mistakes the relationship between his best friend Polixenes (Matt Merchant) and wife Hermione (Monica Schneider) for adultery. So consumed with paranoia over the situation, Leontes even convinces himself Hermione's newborn was fathered by Polixene. Tragedy ensues.
"A Winter's Tale" is considered one of Shakespeare's "problem" works because the dark themes in the beginning of the story give way to comedy and happy endings in the final two acts. Which is the perfect structure for the professional cabaret sheen the Troubies now bring to all their productions. Straight-faced seriousness leads to characters breaking character leads to show-stopping production number. Rinse. Repeat.
A simple set by Mike Jespersen consists of an arched stained-glass church door flanked by giant red stage curtains. The design is maddeningly functional for the way Walker loves to inject quick "Laugh-In" cutaways for a quick one-liner or visual joke. An otherwise dark blank set makes the perfect canvas for Jeremy Pivnick to display his lighting prowess. One amazing effect fuses a clock to the stage floor in a bank of thick fog for the Oracle (Lisa Valenzuela) to float around on.
Walker culls those specific gems from musical source Withers that best proclaim the tortured interior emotions of his characters. The classic soul qualities and danceable grooves of "Just the Two of Us" and a stomping "Lovely Day" add both true feeling and hip-shaking swagger to Shakespeare's quiet tale of love and loss.
JAMES PETRILLO is an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles.
What: "A Wither's Tale" by Matt Walker (adapted from William Shakespeare)
Where: The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., 4 p.m. Sunday until Sept. 26
Tickets: $27 to $42
Contact: (818) 955-8101 or visit http://www.falcontheatre.com