Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Theater review: Gilligan’s Island: The Musical at Cox Building Playhouse in Plano
Your enjoyment of the production may depend on your familiarity with the TV show.
Gilligan's Island: The Musical (playing at Courtyard Theatre of Plano through February 18) defies criticism. It offers a nostalgic trip for fans of the beloved, classic 1960s television sitcom, pure and simple. Gilligan's Island was adapted from the small screen to the stage in the early '90s by original creator Sherwood Schwartz and his son Lloyd Schwartz. Keeping it all in the family, his daughter and son-in-law Hope and Lawrence Juber wrote the music and lyrics.
The Schwartz family did a faithful job in keeping with the spirit of the original concept, which focused on a group of seven castaways on a deserted island. Every week, opportunities to be rescued were thwarted by misfit Gillian who would unwittingly save everyone by the end of the episode.
The success of Rover Dramawerks' returning production of Gilligan's Island: The Musical can be measured by its sincerity to the material. The sincerity of all the actors, under the direction of Rebecca McDonald, is as high as the sea level that shipwrecks the S.S. Minnow. Coby Cathey, as the iconic, titular character, leads the cast with unabashed silliness to an appreciative audience, all of whom understand what they are getting into.
Cathey is a gifted physical comedian. He has an elastic physique that both charms and worries one for his safety at times with some of the pratfalls he takes. His performance is certainly more than a suitable imitation of Bob Denver's original character, yet somehow he comfortably wears Gilligan's sailor's cap with ease.
Several other cast members are uncanny in their commitment to playing their television counterparts. Jennifer R. Sublett is right on target with her portrayal of Mary Ann. Her enthusiasm is a nice match to Gilligan's shyness. The scenes that Cathey and Sublett share are never lacking in chemistry and are sweet in their innocent nature.
Ian Moore plays the Professor, and although no attempt is made to groom him to look more in step with the original, his wry delivery had me smiling throughout. Russell Harris plays the Skipper and performs the part with a natural likability. Cathey as Gilligan and Harris as Skipper are well-matched in their hut scenes and director McDonald paces those scenes just right, with a tight ear for how they were played in the original sitcom.
Set Designer Abigail Kipp and Properties Designer Nicole Alexander complement each other's efforts nicely as they keep to the spirit of the straight forward presentational structure of the huts and other island surroundings. Part of the original show's charm was that it was filmed with no effort to hide the fact that it was clearly set on a soundstage. That appeal reveals Gilligan's Island's transition to the stage to be a no-brainer.
One concept of the stage version does come across a bit strained in the execution, that being the addition of 20 original songs for this production. This is certainly not the fault of the actors, all of whom are up to the giddy task of playing up the cheese factor with natural aplomb. I specify that there are 20 songs because it is such an overwhelming abundance of musical numbers to pad a stage production inspired by 25 minute vignettes with a canned laugh track. This is not to say that there aren't plenty of numbers that find their welcome. A throwaway song called "Hieroglyphics," where the Professor played by Moore teaches Gilligan how to spell, well … "Hieroglyphics," is cute in its earnest send-up of Professor Higgins elocution lesson to Eliza Dolittle, "The Rain in Spain" from My Fair Lady.
Moore has the good fortune of singing the most lyrically well-written song, "Professor's Lament," and does not disappoint in his delivery. Sublett as Mary Ann is clearly the show's strongest singer and elevates her numbers to a level that would have made Sherwood proud.
At The Column, we do not endorse a star rating for the productions that we see, but being mindful that Gilligan's Island is a divisive musical, I will grade it two ways using a 4 star scale. If you know little or nothing about the television show for which it is based, then consider this a 2 star rating. If you are a fan of the show, than I give it the full 4 stars.
Those who are not familiar with the television series will probably not be convinced that they are missing out on anything, but those who are will be rewarded by the faithfulness to its cheesy design, self-winking charm, and corny one-liners.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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