Unauthorized Musical Parody Series: Clueless
Coming off a successful run of Jurassic Park, Unauthorized Musical Parody Series reimagines 1995’s Clueless (itself based on Jane Austen’s Emma) as an energetic and campy musical romp. With subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the original film and current pop-culture references, UMPO’s Clueless is a nostalgic trip back to Beverly Hills in the ’90s.
Clueless revolves around Cher Horowitz, a wealthy 16-year-old who rules Beverly Hills High with bestie Dionne. Draped in perfectly crisp jacket/skirt combos and spouting forever-quotable dialogue, Cher and Dionne take disheveled new girl Tai under their wing, helping her with both confidence and boys. But once Tai sets her sights on Josh, Cher’s stepbrother (not by blood), Cher reevaluates her selfish way of life and realizes she’s in love with Josh and wants to be a better person.
The Baldwins and the Bettys
UMPO Clueless was full of extraordinarily talented young performers, many of whom have graced TV screens recently. Garrett Clayton (Hairspray Live!, Teen Beach Movie) was hilarious in his dual roles of skateboarding stoner Travis and out-and-proud Christian, complete with glitter shoes. He commanded the stage not only with his impressive vocals, but also with his two extremely distinct characterizations. Morgan Smith (Veep), another actor taking on several roles, stole her scenes frantically rotating between snobby Amber, hopeless Miss Geist and Lucia, Cher’s disapproving housekeeper. Desi Dennis-Dylan was charming as Dionne’s girlfriend Murray (the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic was updated to a lesbian couple), and had great rapping skills. Lucas Coleman – donning many hats as suave Elton, abrasive Mr. Horowitz and schlubby teacher Mr. Hall – was a breath of fresh air during his rendition of “I Touch Myself.”
The main characters – played by Ashley Argota (The Fosters), Domonique Patton, Jason Heymann and Natalie Lander (The Middle) – left me wanting more, despite the actors nailing their songs. Cher (Argota) acted as “straight man” to all the crazy around her and crushed her power ballads, but broke character several times at technical difficulties or audience reactions. Dionne’s (Patton) main trait was Stacey Dash’s (the original Dionne from the film) current questionable politics, thrown in as asides. Heymann, as Josh, was unfortunately not given much to do, and was sidelined for most of the fun, but had a great voice when he was able to utilize it. Lander, as Tai, was given more fun things to do, and was quite engaging with her physical comedy and killer vocals. I adored her interactions with Travis, but wished her spot-on Brittany Murphy accent was a lot less sporadic.
For the most part, the songs included were well-timed and thought-out (not to mention expertly played), fitting into the story nicely, many stemming from the film’s familiar soundtrack. However, the inclusion of several songs that came out after the ’90s – Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” Green Day’s “Blvd. of Broken Dreams” and “Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” – were a little jarring, and I would’ve liked to hear more decade-appropriate ditties, since there are so many to choose from.
Clueless is a silly, exaggerated comedy that seems perfect for the stage. However, with an original that is so campy on its own, UMPO had their work cut out for them in trying to parody it. How do you parody something that is pretty close to a parody already? The addition of the more physical, song-and-dance elements, as well as making it more interactive for the audience, definitely helped, but it was still a big hurdle to overcome. It also felt a bit rushed in parts, but I think that will sort itself out over time, as the actors and crew become more comfortable with having an audience.
Director Jimmy Smagula and his team excelled in creating all the Clueless references that we know and love – beloved songs like “Kids in America,” “Rolling with the Homies” and “Supermodel,” the signature outfits, and the quotable lines – and adeptly modified tricky moments for the theater – the driving scenes, the skateboard competition, and Tai getting hit in the head with a shoe. I’m a big fan of UMPO’s shows and Clueless is no exception; I’m always dazzled by how creative the team is at transitioning the cinematic to the theatrical. I had an extremely entertaining night of dinner, drinks and a trip down memory lane, all set to some killer ’90s tunes and spirited performances. Do yourself a favor and refresh yourself with the film before you go – the references will be that much funnier.