Porn Classic Turned Off-Broadway Musical Tickles with Tongue-In-Cheek Raucous Comedy
Debbie Benson has a dream. As high school cheer captain, she wants nothing more than to become apart of the illustrious Dallas Cowgirls Cheerleading Team. Invited to come to Dallas, her dreams are within reach… but there’s a problem. Her parents think it a fruitless endeavor and won’t pay for the trip. And there we find Debbie; all assets and no cash. What’s a girl to do?
And so goes the plot of the ever-infamous porno, Debbie Does Dallas. And this was about all the info I had going into this show. I saw this listed quite some time ago as an upcoming Fringe show, and was intrigued. Did the writer have what it takes to merge the worlds of classic porn and musical theatre? After seeing this show last night, I can say with all confidence that Erica Schmidt and Susan L. Schwartz nailed it when they collaborated on this adaptation for the NYC Fringe Festival back in 2001. My applause go out to director Dawn Kalani Cowle, who made a smart move in bringing this show to Philly.
In what I can only hope is complete intentional irony, the delight of this year’s Philly Fringe is awkwardly nestled upstairs in Philadelphia’s only lesbian club – Sisters. Although the seating may prove difficult with sightlines, the actors make up for it with a quite literally in-your-face performance. I went with a friend and sat in the front row; which in my opinion, is the only way to see this show.
They’ve taken out the sex scenes and replaced them with ridiculously catchy, simple and always campy musical numbers. Still ringing in my head are “I Wanna Do Debbie” and “Dallas… I’m Coming”. Truth be told, I’ve already ordered the soundtrack this morning.
Senich takes on the title role and is instantly adorable. She hits just the right mix of naiveté and nudge-nudge playfulness that makes you root for her from start to, ahem, finish. Senich gives the strongest vocal performance of the ensemble, bubbling out playfully fun and ludicrous lyrics. There was a great moment when in realizing she can name the cost for sexual indiscretions, the audience cheered her on to raise her prices.
Cowle did a wonderful job with casting this production, particularly with the women. Although the men (Rory X. Donovan, John Greenbaum & Matthew Mastronardi) had a heavy hand in playing multiple roles – complete with Keanu Reeves inspired dialogue and Steven Tyler-esque musical numbers, it was the ladies that stole this show. Debbie’s cast of cheer co-conspirators was rounded out with the clichéd characteristics of stupid, nerdy, trampy and gay.
Taking up their friend’s cause, the girls are able to raise money by offering “Teen Services” to their respective employers. Each of the women really took their characters to heart. Lisa is played to a despicably slutty T by Mara Jill Herman. While not a particularly strong vocal performance, Herman is easily forgivable with the delivery of her saucy lyrics and Samuel Reyes graphically bold choreography. Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly puts forth what is easily the most honest and engaging performance of the night as Tammy, the closeted lesbian of the squad, who splits her time avoiding the “duties” her friends have taken on, pining after her friend Donna during stretching sessions and climbing her way into a position in the US Senate. Alex Keiper gives a delightful turn as the dizzyingly ditzy Donna. Utterly clueless to Tammy’s unrequited lust, Keiper is a complete joy to watch; giving the audience not only a seemingly endless parade of vapid expressions, but a cut-up musical number advocating the “educational implementation” of the common banana. Finally we come to Roberta, the geek whose libido climbs to insatiable heights once she finally gets a taste of flesh during the first of two locker room orgies. Kathryn M. Lyles owns Roberta in a strangely compelling way. While many actors can make themselves disappear into character, with the absurd and over-the-top energy on display here, it’s even more impressive and difficult to see where Lyles ends and Roberta begins.
I spent the evening covering my mouth and wiping away tears of laughter. Although the actual sex and nudity have been removed, this production leaves little to the imagination and is, as you might suppose, not for the prudish among you. But if you delight in the stripping down of societal taboos and love to laugh… this show is a hell of a way to spend an evening. And at $20 a ticket, it’s worth every bra-stuffed penny.
PS – If you take me up on my suggestion for the front row, just beware of squirt guns and flying dildos.