Last Thursday night, my friend David and I drove downtown to see the opening night of the world premiere of “The Zippers of Zoomerville, or Two Hundred Laps and a Lass! A Mini-mockeretta” at the Phoenix Theatre. Director Jack O’Hara wrote the book and lyrics. O’Hara and musical director Tim Brickley wrote the music. The show was produced by Bryan Fonseca.
David and I had a great time.
If you are thinking of going to see this show, do not be put off by the goofy, Seuss-esque title. This skillful spoof on both the Indy 500 race and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals is throw-your-head-back hilarious.
The story is of a group of people who live in an area where car racing is big. An earnest rube named John Hoosier Lordyboy, Jr., aka The Rookie (Scot Greenwell) has come to town to fulfill his dreams of seeing his racing heroes in person and maybe even fulfill his fantasy of driving a race car himself.
He falls in love at first sight with the pretty and sweet young lady who has been crowned queen of the race. Happenstance Throttlehotter, aka The Lass, aka “Happy” (Phebe Taylor) falls in love with him, too. However, both carry secrets that may get in the way of them living happily ever after together.
And anyway, Happy’s mother, Speedlove Throttlehotter, aka The Queen Mother (Angela Plank), does not want her only daughter marrying a bumpkin. The coldly beautiful Speedlove has worked too hard and slept with, er, negotiated with too many people not to have her own avaricious dreams come true.
Meanwhile, the slimy villain, Buck Upshotz, aka The Developer (Charles Goad), wants to tear down everything in the city that is of historical, aesthetic, or culture value – including the race track? – and put up buildings whose primary purpose is to bring him a profit. Speaking of profits, he wants his driver to win this year’s race by any means necessary. In cahoots with him is ornery Rusty Nubbins, aka The Old Pro (Michael Shelton), who knows a secret fuel ingredient that will ensure their victory.
Added to the mix (of the story, not the fuel) is Veneera Glossover, aka The Perennial Princess (Mikayla Reed), who has always been first runner-up in the race queen competition, and who is so desperate now to be crowned queen that she will stop at nothing to make Happy disqualify herself.
Sexy Tim Brickley is on stage at the piano throughout the characters’ adventures, singing along sometimes and always looking as if he is enjoying being there. His piano is black-and-white, like the garlands of checkered flags that flutter over the audience members’ heads.
“Pretty ridiculous,” David said, driving me home after the show. There was admiration in his voice. “You could probably see this again.”
I would love to see this again. There were so many funny details to relish in the lyrics. The cast sang them very crisply, too. Listening to them was, for the most part, as easy as listening to spoken words.
“I imagine the writing in this show would be fun to read but hard to say aloud,” David said. “My grade school music teacher would love this show. She was always a stickler for fine diction.”
He thought his mom would like it, too. “There’s a lot of double entendres…”
“The scrotucisms!” I laughed out loud, remembering John Hoosier Lordyboy’s numerous “genetalical references.”
“…but hardly any curse words.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I could see bringing a lot of people to this.”
“Would it play anywhere besides Indy, though?” David wondered. “There were a lot of insider jokes about the Circle City and racing…”
“Yeah, but there was a story to follow, with several twists, and the take-offs on the musical theatre style would be funny anywhere,” I said. “I know that some of the Gilbert and Sullivan references went over my head, but I still laughed a lot. You’ve never been to the race itself but you still laughed a lot. I don’t think this show’s appeal would be limited to Indianapolis audiences.”
“Anyway, it was fun to see it in this space,” David said, referring to the Frank and Katrina Basile cabaret-style space underground at the Phoenix. “You’d have to bring in that pole for the Pole Day sections anywhere else.”
I agreed. “It was cool to be so close to the singers. I like the intimacy of that space.”
We were both pleasantly exhausted from laughing so hard.
David said that he loved all of the music, and loved the singers’ ability to blend and balance themselves well when they sang as a group. “Usually one person winds up drowning out the other, but this group blends really well – and it’s not cacophony either. You can really understand what everyone is saying.”
Of the solo songs, David especially loved Mikayla Reed singing about Veneera getting plastic surgery. “She kept a straight face” (no pun intended) “while the audience just died” (with laughter.)
I loved all of the music, too, and I definitely swooned over Reed’s exquisite singing voice, but if I had to pick a favorite song, I think it would be Lordyboy and Happy’s falling-in-love duet. Greenwell and Taylor’s voices are so beautiful together!
By the way, I’m sorry that I can’t tell you the titles of the songs. They are not listed in the program. However, that’s probably just as well from the point of view of the audience. It is fun to be surprised and delighted by the songs as they come up in the show.
“That last song was kind of ridiculously long,” David, said, “like the race itself.
I think the last song has the persistence of a race-day sunburn. Days later, the “lap lap lap lap lap” chorus is still running through my head. However, also like the Indy 500 race, I’m glad to have experienced it.
The only song for which we could not understand all of the words was the “park in my lawn” song, aka the “show us your tits” song. But we didn’t really mind because there were so many fun things to watch in that song.
Speaking of visuals, I loved the mirror images effect that The Rookie and the Old Pro produced whenever Greenwell and Shelton sang together.
The set, designed by James Gross, has wavy, grey-and-black checks painted on it and a clever oval that opens in various ways to add more layers of humor to the show. Laura Glover’s skillful lighting design takes us from the race pit to the announcer’s box above the track and several places in between. Technical director Christopher Hansen is responsible for the many playful props, from glasses of victory milk to wooden race cars of all shapes and sizes.
He is not, however, responsible for the Fat Baby, for which Jennifer Q. Smith is credited.
Don’t worry that you don’t know right now what I mean by the Fat Baby, and if someone asks you to hold the Fat Baby before the show begins, don’t worry about that, either. Just say yes. You will know what to do with the Fat Baby when the time comes.
Beth Marx designed the versatile, quickly-changeable costumes. My favorite pieces were the skirts, crowns, and sashes of the Queen and the first runner-up. They were laugh-out-loud funny.
I don’t know if the technical director or stage manager Donna Jones was responsible for the stalling engine sounds, but they were a hoot, too.
(Update 5/12/09: A little bird told me that it is actor Chuck Goad making those funny stalling engine sounds. He uses his own voice and a kazoo!)
Oh, I want to share with you many more of the witty specifics of this show, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I’ll just say again that it’s funny and clever and musically pleasurable and, as David said, satisfyingly ridiculous.
And it is a GREAT way to enjoy the month of May in Indianapolis, whether you are a race fan or not.
The world premiere of “The Zippers of Zoomerville, or Two Hundred Laps and a Lass: a Mini-Mockeretta” continues at the Phoenix Theatre through June 6, 2009. On cheap seats nights, which for this show only include BOTH Wednesday and Thursday nights thanks to Duke Energy, tickets are only $15. To make a reservation, please call the Phoenix box office at 317-635-PLAY (7529).
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
(Photo above by Julie Curry Photography)