The Texas Chainsaw Manicurist

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“Texas Chainsaw Manicurist” is an insane musical revue that giddily skewers American pop culture and commercialism. The printed program suggests the show “raises questions about where we place our priorities in this life,” but I must have missed that part. I was probably too busy laughing.

With no plot or characters, the show is wisely very short, too — but still well worth whatever they’re charging these days at Provo Theatre Company.

Instead of a story, the show has a running theme: the mundane stuff that makes up our daily lives. Four people (Carly Lewis, Daniel Law, Celine Morton and Matt Armstrong) sing and dance through a series of numbers on everything from TV reruns to candy bars, doing so with rampant, unchecked lunacy.

Who wouldn’t laugh at a psychotic beauty pageant loser sobbing through her plastic smile? How can you not like a song called “My Barbie Was the Tramp of the Neighborhood”? Is not the idea of a Texas chainsaw manicurist — “She’s filled with hate / But she’s got reasonable rates” — utterly, perversely delightful?

The cast gets it exactly right. There is enough cheesy choreography and mad energy to make it goofy, but not a hint of clowning, mugging or over-doing it.

Celine Morton has the two unhinged characters, the beauty contestant and a Spirograph-obsessed woman. Carly Lewis’s tour de force is the exceedingly vampy “Barbie” number. Matt Armstrong’s funniest title is “Mr. Potato Head Married My Mother,” but his best song is “Creamy Nougat,” in which he sings torchily of his lost candy bar in counterpoint to Daniel Law’s lost lover. And Law’s shining moment is “Billy Goats and Bumblebees,” a nonsensical tongue-twister story that he pronounces flawlessly.

The entire cast sings well, and the peppy “Up with People” group number — a not-too-subtle parody of the Young Ambassadors — is astoundingly, fall-on-the-floor funny. (Actual lyrics: “Up, up, up with the people in the world / They’re the greatest people in the world.”)

One serious number (“I Will Still See You”) is puzzlingly out of place in a show that is otherwise nothing but laughs. Aside from that, this cool, kitschy confection is picture perfect. It reminds us why we love Provo Theatre Company.

An interesting "what-a-small-world" anecdote. This show was produced, in shortened form, as a student-directed Mask Club at BYU in late 1992. Daniel Law directed that one, too -- and I happened to see part of it. Why? Because I was performing in another Mask Club that was going on right after it. While waiting for mine to start, I hung around the back of the theater and saw some of "Manicurist." I remember the Barbie number, but the Up with People thing made a lasting impression on me, and I remember it vividly as being very funny and exciting. (The lyrics I quote in the review are the ones I've remembered all these years.) I was glad to see the show in its entirety, and I smiled bemusedly at the connection I had with it.

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