Book, Music and Lyrics and by Scott Warrender
Directed by David Hunter Koch
ACT Theatre
700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101 / (206) 292-7676

Reviewed by Jerry Kraft

The premise of this lightweight holiday review is that a maniacally peppy vocal company (who once toured with "Happy Pants" the clown) is trapped on an endless road trip now that their "headliner" has died. A nebulous curse that afflicts anyone who tries to leave keeps them indentured to the company, and the addition of Don (Colby Chester) and Fluff LeQwape (Kit Harris), former "national" level chair-dancers, gives them a show of sorts to back up. It's essentially an extended sketch, balancing the frighteningly happy musical numbers with interpersonal cast conflicts and the grinning enthusiasms of Don and Fluff, our over-eager and under-talented emcees. Behind them, there is an individual story for each of the interchangeable big grins, and we get a glimpse of who those people are. To their credit, each member of the company has a distinct character, but the emphasis is clearly on the LeQwape's, and that's not a good thing.

Kit Harris plays Fluff as a piled bouffant confection with a big smile, overboard personality and make-up thick enough to cover both desperation and weary disappointment. Don LeQwape is an archetypal lounge-nerd, all frozen grin, slicked-back hair and pastel polyester. Mr. Chester is rather unsatisfyingly shallow, which is all the role gives him to work with. These two really embody the problems of this whole comedic concept. It's really so tired, so clichÈd and familiar that after the first giggles of recognition, it ceases to be funny. The hopelessly un-hip emcees work plenty hard, especially Fluff, but there's nowhere for the characters to go beyond their stereotype gag. By contrast, each of the company members give us just enough of their individual identities to be intriguing and to establish a group dynamic. The show would be much stronger with much less emphasis on the emcees, or if their storyline was simply dropped. The company could just present their show, revealing occasional, much more subtle insights into this familiar but interesting assemblage. Unfortunately, almost all the subtlety of this show was in the music.

Scott Warrender is a bright, witty, remarkably clever composer. His previous work includes "Das Barbecu" and "The Texas Chainsaw Manicurist". He has a wickedly ironic sense of humor. His songs are melodic and pleasant, and usually there are quite ingenious ideas behind them. For example, when a soloist fails to appear, the hapless company performs the number as originally arranged - which is to say, only the accompaniment and backup vocals. It's very funny and listenable at the same time that it's totally ridiculous. In another number he parodies modern composition with a piece so determinedly minimal and repetitive that a cooking demonstration is added to keep the audience conscious.

If Mr. Warrender's script to this show had been half as funny as the music and lyrics, and the concept a bit less ridiculous and overdone, it might have been a great evening. Instead, it's a pleasant, slightly strained entertainment which sags badly whenever the music stops. In all, this is simply an entertaining holiday trifle, and were it not for the excellence of the comic songwriting and the expertise of the musical invention, the threadbare playwriting might not have been nearly as bothersome. There are plenty of silly, genuinely fun amusements, some very cute gags and invention, enough good talent on hand, and a quick-paced, ingratiating desire to please. "Happy Pants" is a theatrical stocking stuffer - nothing more, nothing less.

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