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Reviewed by Ethan Silver

Bizzy Photo 1Visualize this…you enter a theater and you are instantly transported to the 1970’s complete with disco music and lighting, pastel-laden walls and a polka dotted blanket covering the couch.  What follows is a musical look into the busy life of Kelly Corbett (Jacquie Donley), her daughter Jill (Madeline Penn) and her son, Bobby (Jeremy Herzig) as they work though the trials and tribulations of a single parent household, which is taunted and tormented by the sleaze-ball IRS agent, Orville Schlyman (Michael G. Welch).  On the surface it seems as if is a drama, but with the colorful characters and the cheerful melodies, the audience is treated to a (mostly) lighthearted journey that is both relatable and enjoyable. 

The lead female actor Donley is a natural in her interplay between characters, which is both believable and a joy to watch, however her performance would be heightened with a more pervasive sense of frustration and exhaustion whether it be from emotional strain, physical strain or a combination of both.  Donley seems to jump freely back and forth from the upbeat moments to the darker moments of grief without the appropriate emotional transitions.  This is more likely a result of writing style than the actor’s choice.

The most energetic performance is given by Kristian Espriritu who plays Maria Belyea, the wealthy girl next door and relentless pursuer of the “Hawaiian handyman” Andy Yamamoto (Ryyn Chua).  Espriritu shows her theatrical prowess via a supporting role that has this reviewer wanting to see and hear more.  Her counterpart and love interest Andy shows his dance background even in the simple choreography and maintains a positive and likeable character.  Although not the strongest singer in the cast, he hits his notes and does a fine job bringing his upbeat and positive energy to the character making the most of his time onstage and endearing the audience.  

Of special note is Welch’s portrayal not only of the sleazy Orville Schlyman, but also an Australian Elvis, rogue biker, elderly lady and a postman with a speech impediment.  To contrast Welch’s comic relief is Sean O’Grady and his portrayal of Kelly’s old flame, Sam Rivers.  O’Grady acts as the straight man and does so with a steady confidence that creates an extremely believable and likeable good natured character that is as impressive as his vocal work.

Act I introduces the play and does an excellent job of getting the audience up to speed with the opening number, “Bizzzy.”  The musical numbers that follow are generally pleasant and easy to understand with a simplicity that is appropriate for a show of this nature.  The well known television families of the 70’s are generally portrayed with a campy nature and Bizzzy happily follows suit.  There is however, a stark contrast between the whimsical camp of the first act and the drama of the second.  The act opens with a fun and well choreographed ensemble piece “Bizzzy Reprise,” which then gives way to a touching brother / sister lament by Penn and Hertzig to their departed father entitled, “Mom Has a Boyfriend.”  The two young actors effectively connect to the emotion of the piece and to each other making it a moving experience although it would have been heightened with additional character development of this nature earlier in the story.

Shortly after Act II begins, the story unveils two romantic surprises that come a bit too suddenly for the audience to accept and which temporarily takes the tone from camp to cheese.  These elements are a bit contrived and they would definitely not fly in a straight play, but they work well enough within this context.  What follows is the lover’s lament “You Were My Lady,” with a feeling and essence reminiscent of the love songs from Grease.  The opening numbers could use a bit more energy and “oomph” performance wise to ensure that they do not fade into the background, but this awkwardness is brief and thankfully broken by an announcement from Andy and Marie in “Smile When You’re Walking Down the Aisle.”

Overall, the music is light and enjoyable, the acting is solid and the sets are festive with creative scene changes which garnered “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the audience.  Blocking and choreographing with a cast of twelve is a daunting task, however, Director John Lewis and Choreographer Kelly Corrin do a phenomenal job of keeping the stage uncluttered and even.  The actors maintain a high level of professionalism and they know where they are onstage, as they ensure that their movements are natural and uncontrived.

Lewis employs some out-of-the-box tactics to help bring the audience into the piece, most notably by projecting images and video onto the rear wall above the set.  For example, the audience sees a video in the first person of someone approaching the front door of Kelly’s apartment, while she interacts with this individual from the onstage set.  This provides an additional view of the world of the story that an audience rarely sees.  We are also treated to projections throughout that intertwine with the emotions and actions occurring in real time.  

Once one embraces the camp and self-proclaimed “corniness” of the piece, one will experience a relatable story of life’s frustrations, joys and heartaches through the fun and unique production, Bizzzy.   Catch this production on its next run, possibly in Santa Barbara, CA, and bring the family and some “positive attitude clusters” for an enjoyable trip to the 1970’s.

Photo: Madeline Penn in the role of Jill Corbett