Langara’s 4PLAY serves up a double-dip of delightful musical comedy

PERFECT Everybody Bhangra!

When I arrived for the dual premiere of “Perfect” and “Karaoke: The Musical” last Saturday, I was worried. Not (mostly) because I was settling in for a double helping of unknown theatrical quantities, but because I felt my energy fading from a long, jam-packed day and feared sinking into a slumber when the lights went down, regardless of what delightful things were happening on stage.

It was an unfair test, but at any rate I needn’t have worried. These two comedies not only succeeded on their own terms, they also restored my lacklustre energy levels faster than a jumbo dose of Red Bull.

This is Studio 58?s 10th edition of 4PLAY — four new works penned by students or recent graduates. The four offerings are split into two evenings of two shows each. I naturally opted for the musical and comedy program. And what I saw was accomplished, outrageous, and – most importantly – hilarious.

Caitlin McFarlane channels the manic comic energy of Catherine O’Hara with  her portrayal of Asha Kumar, a traditional and status-obsessed Indian mom determined to have her daughter marry the affluent young man they’ve selected for her. Merren McMahon effortlessly balances teenage vulnerability and inner strength as daughter Maya. And whereas McFarlane’s Asha is a comic highlight, Mike Gill brings a disarming vulnerability and naturalism to the role of Azam, the Romeo to Maya’s Juliet.

The script touches on some deep issues of religious and cultural divisions, but in the end is mostly eager to please as a traditional family comedy. And this it does very successfully – including a laugh-out-loud dinner scene worthy of “All in the Family”. Also, if you liked how they wrapped up “Slumdog Millionaire” and the non-sequitir dancing finales it spawned, you’ll love the Bhangra-tastic way they wrap this one up!

karaoke-combo

“Karaoke, the Musical” followed after the intermission, and marked a complete change of tone from family-differences sitcom to high-concept fantasy – but with no letup in the laugh department. The setting is Holy Hal’s Cosmic Karaoke Bar – a sort of purgatory where two angels-on-probation, Holy Hal and Faith, welcome visitors taking shelter from a raging blizzard (hilariously realized at an outside entrance door). In come a series of contemporary archetypes: the glittery party girl and her frumpier friend; two dimwitted, self-styled ladies’ men; a frizzy-haired, super-politically-correct activist prone to ask, “Would you like to sign my petition to build a government-sanctioned same-sex lizard sanctuary?”; and, most centrally, a lonely young woman seeking the responder to her “I Saw You” ad in the Georgia Straight.

Hal and Faith’s goal is to help these lost souls reach a personal epiphany through karaoke, and the result is a series of perfectly-chosen 80?s, 90?s and contemporary pop tunes, with lyrics modified to suit the characters and situations.

The whole thing fizzes merrily along on an anarchic buzz, mostly keeping the pace percolating, the laughs flying, and, significantly, getting us to really celebrate everyone’s moment of self-realization. Several members of the “Perfect” cast show off their chameleon skills here as unrecognizably opposite types.

Like the play that precedes it, “Karaoke” builds to a neat and happy finale that left the opening night audience applauding and cheering.

So, if the thought of an evening of “new theatre” puts a chill up your spine, fear not – and run, don’t walk, to Langara College to enjoy an utterly delightful evening of entertainment!

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