Hotel Utah: Survival of the Funniest

While one expects the Desert Star Playhouse to be a little hit-and-miss in its wide-scoped parodies of pop culture and entertainment, “Hotel Utah: Survival of the Funniest” is more miss than hit.

This one is focused directly on Utah people and politics, with a “Celebrity Survivor” reality TV show setting up shop at the Hotel Utah. The celebrities involved are porn czar Paula Houston (Holly Braithwaite), Bill Clinton (Scott Holman, also writer and director), Jackie Leavitt (Kathleen Richardson), Britney Spears (Kerstin Anderson), Rick Majerus (Spencer Ashby) and Al Gore (Matt Kohler).

The group has to “survive” in Salt Lake City — Jell-O is reference a number of times — and perform physical challenges, including producing Relief Society-style arts and crafts.

Al Gore is voted out first, as you might expect, and yes, there is a “chad” joke. He then becomes the villain, planning revenge on the group for getting rid of him.

That’s about the extent of the story line, which already is a major difference between this show and the normal Desert Star offerings, which are generally more plot-heavy. It’s not necessarily a liability, but in this case, the thing seems more like an extended skit than a play — especially with the random commercial parodies that are spread throughout it.

The script, by Scott Holman, seems good enough, though it does resort too much to bits that are more references than jokes. Merely re-creating Jackie Leavitt’s TV public service announcements is not, in itself, a parody. And repeatedly shooting that Totally Awesome Computers guy with a shotgun is just enacting the fantasy of every Utahn — a fine thing, sure, but not really a joke, per se.

The script does have some great anarchic moments, such as Houston and Clinton singing a romantic duet, not to mention Clinton’s mistaking her for a “porn star” rather than a porn czar. It’s also nice to see the Paula Houston character in a fat suit: People have already made fun of her for a lot of reasons, but the weight thing has gone mostly untouched so far. It’s not very nice satire, but at least it’s new.

It’s the performances that hurt this show. Holman and Ashby have a handle on doing broad parody, and even going over the top with it, without getting hammy. Kathleen Richardson, Kerstin Anderson and Holly Braithwaite, on the other hand, display Road Show-style cheesiness that damages what could have been some funny scenes.

And Matt Kohler couldn’t look or sound less like Al Gore if he tried. Kohler’s been great in other shows, but he takes this character way too far, crossing the line from amusing into annoying.

I’m all for cutting the folks at Desert Star some slack, since they fill a special niche and have done some stellar work in the past. But this show is too unfocused and unreliable to be a hit.

A changing of the guard for my Desert Star contingency: With Joel having moved and Chris & Lisa unable to attend, I had three other friends go with me. They were disappointed with their first DSP experience, but they promised to come back another time and try it again.