Beyond Karaoke

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While the main purpose of Valley Center Playhouse’s “Beyond Karaoke” seems to be to promote the Utah County-based karaoke company that sponsors it (their catalog is distributed with the play’s program), there’s also a reasonably entertaining show in there, too.

Bryce (Davison Cheney, also director and de facto writer) is the depressed owner of a dumpy bar and grill in Mojave, Calif. He and his sister, the brassy Tammy (Jenifer Pope), run the place, having inherited it from their uncle Mike a few years ago.

Assisting them are Randy (M. Casey Reeves), a carefree young fellow; and Lisa (Kiri Price-Reeves), a timid gal who can’t mix drinks and has a mysterious past.

Not assisting them are any customers to speak of. Randy suggests adding karaoke as an attraction, and Bryce happens to have some karaoke tapes. (I asked the play why Bryce has a box full of tapes consisting of just music, with the vocals all removed and ready for karaoke singing, but the play didn’t answer me.)

The only problem with this plan is that the customers, when they do show up, aren’t courageous enough to get up and sing. So the four employees start doing it themselves, which leads to a full-blown show in which they dress as and impersonate famous singers, all in the hopes of raising enough money to save the bar from foreclosure.

That aspect — “Let’s put on a show to save the (fill in the blank)!” — is a classic musical-theater plot device, and it’s the only thing about “Beyond Karaoke” that is traditional. There is no incidental singing: The characters only burst into song when they’re performing karaoke.

The comedy premise here is that singing familiar songs is funny, and even more so if you add choreography, and even more-more so if you dress up like the original singers, and even more-more-more so if the original singers are not the same gender as you. To the extent that you find this premise funny, the show is amusing.

Cheney does a very funny (and subtly accurate) impression of Louie Armstrong; Reeves and Price-Reeves do a delightful Sonny & Cher, too. Other artists impersonated during the 20-minute karaoke medley finale include Madonna, Vanilla Ice, Michael Jackson and Kool & the Gang.

The script, originally by John Driscoll but heavily altered by Cheney, ranges wildly from the lame to the clever. Lisa’s backstory is ridiculous, and Randy’s attraction to her is more obligatory than anything. But there are also some witty exchanges here and there, particularly dealing with Bryce’s inexplicable cluelessness when it comes to pop culture of the last 20 years. (He asks if Milli Vanilli were “related to Liza Minelli,” and when his sister suggests a medley of songs by heavy-metal group Iron Maiden, he says, “Why do you have to bring Mom into this?”)

Overall, though the show ain’t exactly a masterpiece, it’s certainly enjoyable in a simple, fluffy kind of way. Give everyone credit for giving it their all in a show that is, essentially, a 2-hour commercial for a karaoke company.

I have never been so harassed into seeing a show as I was this one. Three people, apparently all independently of each other, contacted me about coming to review it before I finally did.

We don't usually review shows at the Valley Center Playhouse, simply because there's not usually a lot of point to it. The shows are simple, often locally written, and are good because they give community members a chance to perform. Even by community theater standards, though, the shows tend not to measure up even to other community theater in the area, and printing one negative review after another wouldn't serve any purpose.

With this one, though, theater owner Jody Renstrom (a very, very nice lady who gave me a friendly tour and history of the theater the last time I had been there) left me a voice mail saying they'd like someone to come review it because they "could use the publicity." I didn't doubt that, but I feared the review might not offer them the kind of publicity they wanted. Then Davison Cheney called me and said the same thing. He said the show was really good. I said, "Well, I can come review it, but you know, I'm going to be honest in my review...." And he said, "I'm not afraid of you, Eric Snider." I thought that was one of the coolest things anybody had ever said to me, so I agreed to come.

Even before I could, though, someone from the karaoke company e-mailed me and invited me. I told him I was already planning on coming, for crying out loud! Man!

I eventually realized, I think, why everyone wanted a review in the paper. As I mentioned, the thing was a big ad for a local karaoke company (note that I did not name the company in the review, and am still not naming it here). I saw a flier in BYU's fine arts building looking for cast member, which mentioned that the show would have a "long run" and would receive "much publicity." I'm guessing part of Valley Center Playhouse's arrangement with the karaoke people is that, in exchange for the karaoke people doing the show, Valley Center Playhouse would do everything it could to get attendance and publicity high, in order to ensure that the karaoke people get plenty of exposure, thus making the show worth their while. I'm speculating here, of course, but all the facts seem to fit that.

The review is honest, just like I said it would be, and the show was reasonably entertaining. I used the word "simple," and I definitely mean that. If you go to the theater a lot, the show would probably not do much for you. But for occasional theater-goers, it's fun enough.

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