Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
A Lighthearted Dose of Good vs Evil: “Pope! An Epic Musical” at Theatre Unleashed
Musicals come in several forms. The classic Great American Musical uses its songs to advance the plot, has beautifully choreographed (and sometimes significant to the plot itself) dance numbers, and other elements which define the high end of that art form. Newer forms border on opera, where the music cannot be divorced from the plot. Old 20s musicals are sillier, easy to parody, and full of tunes which have entered the American Songbook.
And then there are the musicals where the music’s just a conduit for keeping things lighthearted – a way to ensure that the general silliness has a platform to stand on. Such a show is the west coast premiere production of “Pope! An Epic Musical” now at Theatre Unleashed in North Hollywood. With book and lyrics by Justin Moran and music by Christopher Pappas, the thing flows with great rapidity, scattering site gags and ridiculous suppositions with great abandon. It’s an entertainment, through and through.
In its silliness this show does have a basic point, but must be (and is) played impressively tongue in cheek. A young man whose name actually is Pope, yearns from an early age to achieve that lofty position. He does, and uses it as a bully pulpit for celebrating the good in life and in people. As such he incurs the wrath of an evil archbishop who connives to unseat him and establish a new inquisition in his place.
Makes for pretty good melodrama, especially if the results prove as over the top as this musical offering demands.
Jase Lindgren is the earnest, innocent and youthful Pope, straightforward in his approach and stunned at his condemnation. As the girl with a lifelong crush on him, who chooses the convent and thus saves him, Sammi Lappin sings well and has some particularly clever moments. Shawn Cahill makes the Archbishop the kind of melodramatic villain usually twirling a mustachio and ordering women be tied to train tracks. He has a great time in the process, and drives the piece more than any other cast member.
Also worthy of special note in an enthusiastic and versatile cast is R. Benito Cardenas, very, very funny as Cardinal Duncan – a man so desperate for a friend he willingly jumps in as the Archbishop’s central henchman. Jude Evans also deserves special credit, as he plays not one, not two, but three different characters including Jesus himself. Mark Lopez offers a most comic moment as God.
Essentially, as put together by director Gregory Crafts, this thing is just fast-paced, cleverly designed fun. Nothing in it, especially the Catholic hierarchy is intended to be accurate. By the same token, do not expect the moments of a cappella religious-sounding music to be as tonal as you expect. The vocal approximations work, because the whole thing is a bit “off” on purpose.
A special nod to the uncredited costumer who creates the ultimate quick-change approximations of collars, habits and such that allow swift shifts in character and setting without much need for a set.
“Pope! An Epic Musical” is that oddly delightful mix of comic books, Monty Python-esque satire, foolishness, and good ol’ “innocent goodness defeats calculating villainy” destined to make you leave with a smile even as it doesn’t bear much in the way of close examination. So, go laugh it up. There’s still a bit of time before the end of the run.
What: “Pope! An Epic Musical” When: Through November 17, 8 p.m. Saturday and Monday, 7 p.m. Sunday Where: The Belfry Stage, Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St. in North Hollywood How Much: $15 (or make a $5+ donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and name your own price) Info: (818) 849-4039 or http://www.theatreunleashed.com