Book by Norman Panama & Melvin Frank
after Comic Characters by Al Capp
Music by Gene de Paul
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Original Choreography by Michael Kidd
Directed by Robert Ennis Turoff
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre
25 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, 941-366-5454, 800-652-0920
Feb. 24 through April 4, 2010

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker


Al Capp's characters and situations are comically classic:  Buxom blond Daisy Mae hankers after but has never quite pinned down big, muscular Abner in marriage.  Pappy Yokum's all for it but the Kickapoo Joy Juice that Mammy Yokum gives their son to keep him anything but "Li'l" also quenches desire. Earthquake McGoon has plenty of that for Daisy Mae. She aims instead to catch Abner on Sadie Hawkins Day, when Dogpatch gals get to chase and wed the men they tag. But just before it dawns, it's not "A Typical Day" when scientist Ramona Finsdale arrives from Washington D.C. to announce evacuation for an imminent  nuclear test. Neither town nor race will be spared, unless Dogpatch can prove it's not America's most unnecessary place. How will that happen when its backward hillbillies  take after the town's founder, the perpetual loser "Jubilation T. Cornpone"?  And even if the bombing's stopped, won't General Bullmoose get recipe and rights to make and market Joy Juice by fixing the race so that his stooge Appassionata Von Climax wins Abner?


Though dated and mostly silly, Li'l Abner has some rousing songs, with clever anytime lyrics typical of Johnny Mercer. "The Country's In the Very Best of Hands" satirizes politics today as effectively as it did in 1950.  Dewayne Barrett's "Sadie Hawkins Day Ballet" and "Matrimonial Stomp" choreography nicely fits the show as well as the limits of the dancers.  Highlighting  the production are Michael Newton-Brown's cartoonish set and the primary-colored costumes Dee Richards designed  following  Capp's drawings.


Director Robert Ennis Turoff obviously put a lot of thought into having  his cast look its part and act so as to live up to the subtitle,  Rip Roarin' Musical.   He contributes further a seriously hardboiled General Bulmoose, matching the greediness  (for government compensation money) shown by Joe Hunter's Mayor Dawgmeat and Brian Nichols' Senator Phogbound.   Easily the star both acting and singing, Heather Kopp as Daisy Mae goes from funny, claiming  "I'm Past My Prime", to romantic wishing for "Love in a Home."  With looks and a voice much like a young Howard Keel's, Matthew C. Scott as Abner is tall of stature but short on charisma.  That makes more of a rival out of lively Ryan Kimball Fitts' McGoon. Perhaps their origins are responsible for the show's  comic caricatures being the most fun: Michael Bajjaly, goofy and all-out-ostentatious as Marryin' Sam;  rambunctious Ellie Pattison as pipe smokin' Mammy Yokum alongside  peppy though bent over Pappy played by plucky Bob Trisolini. After a stiff start, Roberta MacDonald warms up later just as does her Dr. Finsdale.  Sevasty Antoniades and Kathryn Ohrenstein do sexy turns respectively as Appassionata and Stupefyin' Jones. Eric Gregory as Available Jones, Craig Weiskerger as Evil Eye Fleagle, and Charlie Nelson as Moonbeam McSwine  illustrate their characters' names.


John Visser and his musicians do justice to the score for 2 and 1/2 hours, except for a 15 minute intermission. It is unusual for an oldie like Li'l Abner to be new to the longest continuously run dinner theatre in America,  but an audience known for liking  nostagia  should especially enjoy this romp as a remembrance.


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