Chicago Theatre Review
Listen to a Story About a Man Named Jed
The Beverly Hillbillies, The Musical
It’s been a long time since this rollicking TV sitcom reigned supreme on CBS. The comedy featured over 200 episodes during its seven years run. Those who grew up enjoying this weekly televised confection will fondly recall all the wonderful characters and their many “fish-out-of-water” themed situations. “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the show’s snappy musical prologue written by series creator Paul Henning, was performed at the top of each episode by bluegrass artists, Flatt and Scruggs. In just a few seconds it reminded audiences of how J. D. Clampett, the family patriarch, missed the possum he was hunting and accidentally fired his shotgun into the ground. Oil suddenly began erupting from the hole. Next thing he knows he’s a millionaire and has relocated his family from the Ozark mountains to the Beverly Hills.
What made this TV show so uniquely funny and highly popular during its nine-year run was its characters. The Clampetts (Jed, his daughter Elly May, his feisty mother-in-law Granny and his less-than-intelligent nephew Jed) were all kind, likable, innocent and trusting people in comparison to the snobby, self-obsessed, superficial California community into which they move. The Clampetts experienced a constant learning curve and every day brought new revelations and adventures. Their fortune was kept by the penny-pinching Milburn Drysdale in his Beverly Hills Commerce Bank. Because Jed was his most important client, Drysdale bent over backwards to insure the Clampett’s happiness in their new home, right next door to his own mansion. He’s aided by his uptight, but intelligent secretary, Miss Jane Hathaway, and is plagued by a wife who constantly complains about her new neighbors. The show was filled with double entendres and cultural misunderstandings that always resulted in comic circumstances.
In 1963 playwright David Rogers adapted several of the televised episodes into a stage play. In 2013 he began collaborating with Chicago composer/lyricist Greg Opelka to create a musical version of his script. When Rogers passed away before finishing the project he bequeathed his daughter Amanda to complete his work. The resulting musical, having its world premier in Munster, is a delightful, light-hearted extension of the popular TV series.
Noted Chicago director David Perkovich returns to TATC to bring this new show to life. Making excellent use of the Center’s wide, cavernous playing area, Perkovich keeps his opening scenes staged modestly, but lets loose once the Clampetts arrive at the gorgeous theatrical creation that is their Beverly Hills mansion. Set designer Ann N. Davis has beautifully and painstakingly brought the elegance, detail and clean beauty of the millionaire’s estate to the stage. There’s even the famous cement pond! One of those rare moments occurs when, as soon as the curtain parts, the audience breaks into spontaneous applause for the impressive set.
Perkovich’s cast is comprised of the area’s finest triple threats. James Harms, Summer Naomi Smart, Kelly Anne Clark and John Stemberg play Jed, Elly May, Granny and Jethro with special attention to their character’s little quirks, such as Granny’s stiff, slightly hunched-over walk and Jethro and Elly May’s giant, beaming smiles and Southern drawls. That all four actors are terrific singers and accomplished dancers only adds to the delight they bring to these iconic roles. Costumer Brenda Winstead and wig master Kevin Barthel don’t disappoint either. These two talented artists aid each actor to physically achieve his transformation. Ms. Winstead’s costumes look exactly the way audiences remember them from the TV show.
Other particularly noteworthy performances are provided by Missy Aguilar in the dual roles of cousin Pearl, Jethro’s money-hungry mama, and socialite Gloria Mundy. It’s time for Ms Aguilar to have a leading role now. Her glorious voice is always in top form and she’s a very versatile performer, to boot. Chicago favorite character actors Bernie Yvon, as the mercenary Colonel Gaylord Foxhall, and Holly Stauder, as the continually apoplectic Margaret Drysdale steal every scene they’re in. Norm Boucher makes a funny Milburn Drysdale and Tina Gluschenko turns in a brilliantly spot-on Jane Hathaway. David Sajewich is easy-going and smooth as Detective Lt. Frank Richards and proves to be quite the romantic leading man.
Greg Opelka has penned some nice songs for this musical adaptation, particularly the rousing, foot-stomping finale to both acts, “Stamp It Like a Clampett,” Jed’s genuinely sincere ballad sung to his daughter, “When I’m Lookin’ at You” and Granny’s simple, heartfelt “My Little Ozark Home.” Elly May and Lt. Richards have a pleasant song-and-dance number entitled “Sleuthin’” and Colette Todd, as the femme fatale posing as a hillbilly hometown girl, entertains with the sexy “Rita Always Gets Her Man.” But this slight musical runs far too long. The reason is the result of too many characters, more subplots than are needed and far too many musical numbers. Every character seems to have his own solo or duet, which does nothing to further the plot and only makes Act II seem interminable.
This debut musical won’t change the world. There isn’t a message or lesson to be learned. But every show needn’t be a “Les Miserables” or a “Next to Normal.” It’s simply a pleasant summertime diversion for audiences looking for a good time. Judging from comments overheard at Wednesday’s matinee, it filled the required bill as a funny, familiar slice of nostalgia. And “E-e-e, doggies” is it a stompin‘ good time.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 10- August 10 by the Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Rd., Munster, IN.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 219-836-3255, Tickets.com at 800-511-1552 or go to www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.