by: JK Clarke
Most of the time you don’t really need to know anything about a play before you see it. If it’s a complex or information-heavy piece (like one of Shakespeare’s histories, for example), it doesn’t hurt to read a synopsis beforehand. But, in general, you can get by without even knowing what the play is about before the curtain goes up. Except once in a while it’s a really, really good idea to know what it is you’ll be seeing. Bayside! The Musical! is one such show. It’s a musical parody of Saved By the Bell, an early 1990s TV sitcom about a bunch of high school kids. If you’re a fan of the show, no problem. You’re likely to have a good laugh and enjoy your night out. But, if you’ve never seen Saved By the Bell, then you’re in for a long, long evening.
Bayside! The Musical! is hammy kitsch at its schmaltziest — as overdone as that lazy string of adjectives. But it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: lovingly lampoon a TV show (that was a parody of its own genre to begin with) for an audience of nostalgic late-20s to early 30-somethings. It’s an energetic performance: Up With People! with dirty words, sexual suggestiveness and snide asides. The post-preppy teens go through the overbearing dramas that every high-school sitcom inevitably dredges up, from “crush on the new girl” to “they’re closing our hangout!” to “does she have a drug problem?!!!” But here the themes (echoing plotlines from the show itself) are mercilessly mocked and contorted. One particularly uplifting number deals with the employment of a Trapper Keeper (a brand of binder) for “Hiding Our Boners.” It’s schlocky adult mockery of adolescent angst. And the raunchier the cast gets, the funnier and more enjoyable the songs are.
With notable performances by Sam Harvey (Zack), Maribeth Theroux (Kelly) and Justin Cimino (as an uncannily accurate Screech), the cast appears to enjoy performing and interacting with the audience, an added bonus for those who are already connected to the material. The commitment to the gag goes right down to the program, which features mock humorous ads that are callbacks to jokes in the show. Perhaps the biggest surprise is music itself. Susan O’Dea’s directs the musically sharp house band “The Zack Attacks” (Bob McSmith, Tobly McSmith, Steve Espinola and Jordyn Blakely). Rather than the bouncy, syncopated rhythms of a stereotypical musical, the songs here are set to contemporary rock, including a well-played cover of “Where is My Mind?” by the alt-rock band The Pixies.
Some people like practical jokes; others enjoy the basest of puns; and still others revel in pop culture musical parodies. To each his own.Bayside! The Musical! is a perfect for the latter. It’s fun nostalgia that brings fans back to their childhood. It’s the type of show that fulfills an audience’s need to feel like they’re in the know and part of a “moment.” Yours truly remembers a moment of nostalgia at this very theater, New Year’s Eve 1990-91. Theater 80 was a cinema at the time, and that night the venue you gallantly rang in the New Year with a double feature: Preston Sturges’ wonderful “Sullivan’s Travels” followed, after midnight, by the classic Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant laugher “Bringing Up Baby.” The object of nostalgia might not be the same for everyone, but the idea is the same. And now, as then, the right audience gets the right result.
Bayside! The Musical! Written and Directed by Bob and Tobly McSmith. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through December 28 at Theater 80 (80 St. Mark’s Place @1st Avenue). www.baysidethemusical.com