Sunday, June 2, 2024

"Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I'm not sure what I expected from the new work of music-theater Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything, based on Puccini's one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi, but it wasn't... that. #TCTheater legends Bradley Greenwald and Steven Epp have adapted the story about a wealthy man's family fighting over his will (with additional inspiration from Succession and Arrested Development) and written new English lyrics for the music. The result is the most ridiculous and delightful opera I've ever seen. If it can even be called an opera anymore; there's much more dialogue than operas typically contain. But whatever you call it, it's simply a joy to watch this outrageously talented cast sing this gorgeous music with modern, silly, and even sometimes crude words. It's a 100-minute wild romp of an opera. You have plenty of time to get to the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis and see it before it closes in early July. And if you like music, comedy, and creativity - you definitely should.

waiting for Bobo (Steven Epp) do die (photo by Dan Norman)
The entire story takes place in one day on a yacht off the coast of Miami, where the wealthy fish & chips tycoon Bobo is dying. He's attended by his grandson Ricky, a doctor, and hospice nurse Laurie, who keeps reviving him when his heart stops (which I don't think is what hospice nurses do, but it works for the joke and the plot). Ricky and Laurie are in love, and Bobo approves, even when he finds out Laurie is the granddaughter of his frenemy Johnny Skeeky, whom he thought had died long ago. Meanwhile, Bobo's daughter Verna and her family are waiting for him to die to see what he left them in his will. When they suspect it's not what they think, hijinks ensue, in a way that you just have to see to believe.

Verna (Norah Long) reads the will (photo by Dan Norman)
In addition to writing and directing the piece, Steven and Bradley also star in it - Steven as Bobo and Bradley as Johnny. Steven is an expert at creating odd and specific characters, here as an old, doddering, yet still sharp man, and maybe one or two others (no spoilers!). Bradley gets to showcase his gorgeous singing voice, as well as playing comedy as Johnny (and others). They've surrounded themselves with a powerhouse cast vocally, who also are pretty funny themselves. Felix Aguilar Tomlinson and Anna Hashizume are sweet as the young lovers, with some of the most beautiful songs. And you really can't get any better than the divine Norah Long as Verna, bass singing James Ramlet as her husband, Elizabeth Hawkinson and Erin Capello as her vapid daughters, and Benjamin Dutcher as the latter's even more vapid husband. Last but not least and likely cast for his comedic skills (although he can carry a tune), Jay Albright is hilarious even when not speaking a word, cracking me up just walking out of the room to get a Shasta.

With orchestration by Robert Elhai, Music Director Sonja Thompson leads the five-piece off-stage orchestra on this gorgeous score (some of which sounded familiar even to this opera novice). The singing, the harmonies, the notes this cast hits - just stunning. And it's such an odd and appealing juxtaposition between the classy and elegant music and the ridiculousness of the words they're singing.

Johnny Skeeky (Bradley Greenwald) has arrived
(photo by Dan Norman)
The set looks every bit like the bright and sunny Miami yacht, with a hospital bed on one side, deck overlooking the ocean in the back, and multiple doors (essential for comedy). Lighting changes from the hot summer sun to an evening glow, with a wild windstorm as a hurricane approaches. Recorded sound of a baseball game on the radio, or hospital equipment noise, is well done, as is the sound mix between vocals and instruments. 

The costumes are every cliche of rich people in Miami that you could think of - bright colors, sequins, feathers, gold lamé, and the wildest high heels (kudos to these actors for looking almost comfortable walking around in them). Johnny Skeeky's devil red suit, with matching bold glasses, is a standout. The costume design is the opposite of Coco Chanel's advice to remove one piece before you leave the house; it's like these people got dressed and accessorized, then added one or two more pieces. But it works for these over-the-top characters and is super fun to look at. (Scenic design by Benjamin Olsen, lighting design by Karin Olson, sound design by Kevin Springer, costume design by Sonya Berlovitz.)

Johnny Skeeky is an excellent conclusion to another fantastic season at Theater Latte Da. Check out their new works festival NEXT (from which this piece was born) this summer, then get ready for what looks to be another great season, including the long anticipated #TCTheater debut of the Tony-winning musical Fun Home and a rarely done Sondheim musical.