While Desert Star Playhouse’s shows are usually just good, clean fun that don’t require much of you in the thinking department, the current “Les Miserables: A Whole Lot Less Miserable” may not be as enjoyable for the casual theater-goer.
This is because the play lacks one thing: a plot.
It’s a parody of the musical theater sensation “Les Miserables,” of course, but it’s also a parody of the commercialization of that show, and of the people who are die-hard fanatics about it.
And so the Desert Star version turns into more of a collage of parody and satire, rather than an actual show with an actual storyline. The characters onstage “know” they are in a show, and they make reference to it constantly. There are too many lines about “this scene is going on too long,” or “here’s what happens next in the script,” or “I’m just a bit-player with a couple lines.” Instead of being the story of the French revolution it’s the story of Desert Star doing a show.
None of which is necessarily bad. It just means that if you are unfamiliar with “Les Miserables,” the story behind it, Broadway in general, and the last several Desert Star shows, you may not enjoy this production, because there is very little in the way of traditional heroes and villains to get involved in.
Some of the “Les Miserables” parodies are quite clever. The scene in which Fontine (Portia Alison) is, as she puts it, “squash-ed” by a cart is quite funny, as is the number mocking the commercialization of “Les Miserables.”
The song and dance that ends the first act is a dead-on parody of Broadway “show-stoppers,” and the most ambitious musical piece the Desert Star has tried in at least the last five shows (which is as many as I’ve seen).
There are two scene-stealers in this show, one good and one bad. Kaycee Raquel, who plays the spoiled Eponine, delivers each line directly to the audience, and when she’s not the focus of the scene, she’ll do her best to take it anyway. (One of her co-stars even ad-libbed a line in reference to this in a recent performance: “I’ll tell you about it as soon as SHE stops upstaging me!” he said as Raquel hogged the audience’s attention when she should have been standing to the side quietly.)
The other scene-stealer — the one who does it in a good way — is Paul T. Murphy as Marius. He has the strongest singing voice of the cast, and plays Marius very smart and funny. The show is supposed to be goofy and silly, and Marius is no exception, but Murphy plays him with a kind of dignity and intelligence that makes him even funnier. You can tell there’s some real talent hidden behind the pratfalls and groan-inducing one-liners.
The “Give My Regards to Broadway” Olio after the show is entertaining, though again, a knowledge of Broadway shows is certainly helpful.
To the Desert Star’s discredit, a few songs in the show itself and in the Olio were borrowed heavily from the Broadway parody troupe “Forbidden Broadway,” whose CDs are readily available. Desert Star stole a couple songs for their Christmas show, too, which also did not escape this reviewer; one would think they’d have learned their lesson by now. It is perfectly acceptable to perform others’ songs in a show, but not without giving credit to the writers. Tom Jordan and Norman E. Plate are listed as writers, but a few of the songs were clearly lifted from “Forbidden Broadway.”
Desert Star is quite capable of producing funny, satirical shows without having to swipe the work of others.
I am not a big fan of plagiarism, and I was surprised they still tried it after I caught them at it in "It's a Wonderful Life". Alas, this was not to be the last time, either.