Heritage Square puts a proud end to the Loud series
Heritage Square Music Hall will close down at the end of the year, after more than two decades of hilarity in its eccentric Golden home. The building is an Old West opera house, authentic except for the fact that it's two-thirds the normal size of one and was built in 1973 by a developer inspired by Disney theme parks. In this space, a unique small company evolved an equally unique performing style. Their shows are simultaneously bumbling and brilliantly staged, professional and apparently amateurish, silly and clever — and also gutsy and funny as hell. For a long time, a devoted audience came along night after night for the ride. But that audience dwindled, perhaps because of the recession, perhaps because many theater-goers these days prefer glitzy musicals — and that means the music and laughter will soon end.
For the moment, however, there's plenty of both as the intrepid troupe presents the tenth and final entry in its Loud series — original summer-spoof musicals in which the members perform a string of popular numbers linked by a very thin excuse for a plot. The premise is that T.J. Mullin, who's also the company's artistic director, and Annie Dwyer are brother and sister revisiting their parents' home and reminiscing about their high-school years. Garage Sale Loud: This Is It, presented in 2010, was intended as the last in the series; in that one, the house had been sold, the always-invisible parents were preparing to move to a retirement community, and the action ended with the group standing in the driveway singing Bob Dylan's "Forever Young."
50 Shades of Loud picks up where Garage Sale Loud ended. Rory (Rory Pierce) has bought the house and is about to move in — except that Mom is on the john reading O magazine and shows no inclination to vacate. Rory's ex-wife, Johnette (Johnette Toye), is moving in a couple of blocks away and seems anxious to renew the relationship: "You belong to me," she sings. The Loud saga began with a tumultuous relationship between Annie (Dwyer) and her unfaithful high-school boyfriend, Bobby Lee — always played, with varying degrees of commitment or reluctance — by some guy Dwyer picks out of the audience. Now she and Bobby Lee are married, but she still has cause to worry because, as she sings, "He's tried to make me go to rehab, but I won't go go go," and he also can't remember where they met or their favorite song. Annie plonks herself on the commandeered character's lap, ruffles his hair, drags him onto the stage, and berates him many times over the course of the evening.
Given the theater's fate, you might expect the cast to be dispirited — but they're all in terrific form, backed by a grand band comprising Eric Weinstein, Jeff Foerster and the indispensable Randy Johnson. The performers do solos, duets and group numbers; play various instruments; execute sharp, synchronized moves; croon love songs and belt out hard rock. They don wigs and absurd costumes; the men sashay in ball gowns. It wouldn't be Heritage without Mullin and Dwyer's take on Sonny and Cher ("The Beat Goes On"), everyone donning bowl-cut black wigs for a Beatles number ("Back in the U.S.S.R.") and a hugely fat-suited Dwyer trundling around the stage as Mama Cass for "Creeque Alley," then playing a stumbling, arm-waving Janis Joplin ("Piece of My Heart") and turning her eyes inside out for a scary zombie imitation. All the numbers are fun, but some are performed with such crazed passion that the entire house erupts in joyous shouts. You've seen Elvis impersonators before, but you've never seen anything like Pierce's high-octane, full-throated rendition of "Viva Las Vegas." Alex Crawford brings chest-deep vigor to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." And I can't find the adjectives to convey how insanely funny Mullin is as Mick Jagger singing "Honky Tonk Women."
On the night I saw the show, the audience — a mix of devotees and newcomers — was almost as much a part of the action as the cast, cheering, clapping and singing along. And at the very end, after the actors had left the stage, there was a sudden burst of applause: Bobby Lee had stood up to leave. Heaven knows if we'll ever see him again.
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