Beyond Karaoke

“Beyond Karaoke” began in a tiny California town as a locally written musical in which all the accompaniment came from a Utah County karaoke company.

The owner of that company, curious to see how his product was being used, flew out to see the show, liked what he saw, and recognized it as an opportunity to sell more of his karaoke CDs. If a show ABOUT karaoke singing that USES karaoke music is popular with audiences, you’re sitting on a goldmine!

Unfortunately, “Beyond Karaoke” is not a very good show, its script sounding an awful lot like something that began in a tiny California town as a locally written musical. The fact that the show has now become, quite unabashedly, nothing more than an advertising tool just makes its lack of entertainment value all the more jarring. (If it were really good, we might not mind the 500 karaoke ads that greet us when we buy tickets, visit the lobby and open the printed program.)

The show is about a failing airport bar run by the unbelievably un-hip Bryce (Chad Hardy) and his sardonic sister Tammy (Jennifer Pope). In an effort to boost business, their employee, Randy (M. Casey Reeves) suggests introducing karaoke singing. Tammy is all for it — “It’s the ‘in’ thing!” she declares, untruthfully — and convinces Bryce to go along.

Karaoke helps a bit, but not much, so the three decide to do the singing themselves, hoping the customers will follow. This leads to their doing a full show, complete with costumes and impersonations of the people whose songs they’re singing. Semi-flighty waitress Lisa (Heidi Taylor), a former professional singer, is hesitant to help out for trite reasons that come out later.

Basically, the plot exists as a means of allowing four actors to do impressions of everyone from Sonny and Cher to Elvis. They do this pretty well — and, in fact, the foursome is undeniably committed to the occasionally ridiculous things the script calls on them to do, clearly making the most of the situation.

Despite the program’s assertion that SCERA’s production is the Utah premiere (or “premier,” as they spell it), that distinction actually goes to the Valley Center Playhouse, which did the show earlier this year. (Reeves and Pope appeared in that version, too.) The small Lindon theater was actually better-suited for the show, as the intimate feel helps the audience assume the part of bar patrons who sing along with the karaoke (which is encouraged). The SCERA is too large to allow that kind of immediacy, and much of the jollity seems forced.

I know some rewriting has been done between the Lindon production and this one, that Lindon’s had some changes to John Driscoll’s original script, and that Driscoll has since unchanged some of the changes and added some things of his own. Frankly, the Lindon version — whether it was the product of John Driscoll or the local cast — was better. I remember two specific jokes that were funny in that one whose punch lines have been changed to where they are no longer funny. Also, a concluding scene that wraps the whole thing up has been cut, taking any sense of cohesiveness with it, so that the show now ends with the big karaoke medley. But, since the show’s purpose is to promote a karaoke company, why not end that way? All those characters and their plotlines, however feeble they may be, are just going to get in the way of selling CDs.

As was the case the first time I reviewed this show, I did not mention the karaoke company's name in the review, nor am I naming it here. I have no problem with theater being a commercial endeavor, of course; it's only when a show is ONLY designed to make money, and has very little artistic merit, that it bothers me. It happens more often with movies, but it happens now and then with local theater, too.

A few days after this was published, I came into the office to find this voice mail on my phone:

I was very discouraged when I read Mr. Snider's comments about the "Beyond Karaoke" play taking place in Orem. I think it's really rude of him to trash a play that most of us have seen over and over again and really enjoy. ["Most of us"? The theater was practically empty the night I saw it.] You're taking somebody's livelihood and ruining it, you're taking their spirit away, you've really hurt their feelings, you've hurt our feelings by saying it's not a good play to go to. I think you should retract your words and tell people to get out there and see it as fast as they can. They're lucky to have such a good play in the area.

How do you print a retraction on a review? "Sorry, it turns out I was mistaken when I said I didn't think the show was any good. Apparently I do think the show is good. I was wrong about what I thought before."