Viva Salt Lake: Eat My Rust

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The Desert Star Playhouse in Murray prides itself on doing locally-written melodramatic parodies, and on providing an evening of family-friendly musical whimsy.

Generally, they succeed. With the current show, “Viva Salt Lake,” a satire of Elvis Presley movies, they succeed only to a marginal extent. The show is still clean and fun, but not nearly as enjoyable as the last few have been.

The plot has Johnny Hazard (R. Russell Durrant), the Elvis character, drifting into ’50s Salt Lake City on his way to California. There he becomes a racecar driver, falls in love with a local girl, Rusty (Kaycee Raquel), and of course thwarts the evil designs of the local bad guys (played with cheesy enthusiasm by Andrew R. Looney and Paul Thomas Murphy).

Along the way, the characters sing a few rock ‘n’ roll songs, mostly with re-worked lyrics. Some of these songs are funny; others aren’t intended to be and merely give the cast members a chance to show off their vocal talents, which are considerable.

But therein lies some of the problem — not even TRYING to be funny. There are several longish stretches of dialogue where nothing that’s even supposed to be amusing is being said. This is fine, of course, in a regular show, even a comedy, but when the shows have intentionally simplistic plots and characters, taking time out to establish plot devices or express a character’s background seems unnecessary.

Previous shows at the Desert Star have generally been a joke a minute — even though some of the jokes weren’t funny, at least they were lively, and at least the energy kept up.

“Viva Salt Lake,” and the “You Ought to be in Pictures” Olio that follows, can go from being hysterically funny and clever one minute to head-scratchingly unfunny and lame the next. For example, the race scenes, complete with a backdrop that rotates in order to convey the idea of motion, are ingenious and entertaining. Jokes like, “Don’t boo me — boo Clinton!” are solicitous and unimaginative. Having a fight scene with a strobe light on while one character beats up a stuffed dummy intended to represent his foe is funny. Pointing out that Salt Lake has “a church building and a 7-11 on every block” is not. Having Moses part the Red Sea and then be eaten by a shark, complete with “Jaws” music, is funny. Having a man come out onstage wearing a dress is not funny, at least not automatically. (Although you wouldn’t know it from the way the man in front of me almost gave himself a hernia laughing at it.)

As usual, David Len Allen’s piano accompaniment is exceptional and, in this show, adds a lot. Many times, he plays familiar songs whose lyrics accurately describe what’s going on in the show. For example, the evil car racers have “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel,” set in a minor key, as their theme song. When one character talks about a van of young women driving up, we hear the strains of a Janice Kapp Perry song. “Come Come Ye Saints” and “When We’re Helping We’re Happy” also pop up, as do many others.

Gordon Johnson’s Jimmy Durante routine in the Olio is well done, funny, and even kind of sweet.

“Viva Salt Lake,” while not on a par with some other shows in the Playhouse’s history, is still entertaining and amusing, and it’s a nice way to spend an evening with the family.

The man in front of us just kept on laughing and hardly ever stopped. You'd think he'd never seen anything funny before. We were worried about him for most of the show.

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