Actors Theater Center's production of Gilligan's Island - The Musical is one of the best community theater shows I have ever seen. This cast could easily have become the touring company if it was not for the minor issue of most of them having day jobs. Staged at the brand new Mission City Center for the Performing Arts, you could not ask for a nicer venue.
Let me get my gripes out of the way first, and then I'll move on to the good stuff. First gripe: I hate shows which are miked, especially ones like this which do not need to be. They chose tacky looking mikes which tape to the side of the face. Yuk. The Professor's mike was always too loud, and they used a system which sent the sound out the same speakers no matter where the actor was on stage. Annoying. The theater is well-designed, has great acoustics, and the "orchestra" was smaller than the cast, so there was no need for artificial amplification.
Second gripe: The orchestra sounded like a piano, two drum sets and a kazoo. According to the program the kazoo was actually two people on clarinet, flute, soprano sax and tenor sax, and there was a bass and a guitar. I couldn't hear the bass or guitar at all. Frankly, this show would have sounded best with a piano and a couple of percussionists. With a small cast you don't want or need more.
Third gripe: The sets could have been better. The bamboo huts were superb, but the rest of the set pieces were small and better suited to a black box production than to a Broadway-sized stage. They made a lot of use of the flys and scrim, but not particularly good use. Everything could have been bigger and more solidly built (except for the huts which were fine).
While the sets were made for a smaller stage, and were not all solid enough (cave drawing walls should not shake when the Skipper steps into the cave) the art work on them is fabulous. I wanted to see more and bigger partly because what was there is so pretty.
The show was written by the creators of the TV show, so it is no surprise the musical is true to the TV series...in every way except one. All the castaways have a love story (except the poor lonely captain.) There is actual kissing.
Edit add: How could I have left this out? Costumes were spot on, and there are a lot of costume changes for the Howells, especially, who go through a series of elegant attire. Ginger starts out in a swanky peach colored body-clinging full-length gown, changes into that sexy sarong kit, and also shows up in a white full-length gown with the SS Minnow name up the right side - made from the sail (I think it needed some distressing though - didn't look like it had gone through a hurricane). Mary Ann's tied-in-front shirt, bare midriff, black short shorts made me fall in serious lust, and her red gingham poof-sleeve dress is right off of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
The show starts, of course, with The Ballad of Gilligan's Island from the TV series. The 7 cast members sing it live from behind a Minnow cut-out which they carry across the stage, looking vaguely like they are in the boat. The men all stick with the same outfit throughout the show, except for one scene where they add grass skirts. The alien's outfit is very Klatu Verata Nikto, with clever use of a modernistic bike helmet topping a military flight suit-like outfit.
The first number is a twofer: Shipwrecked/Little Buddy and while The Skipper (too) [Robert Shortly] has a wonderful strong bass-baritone voice, the Buddy song is a throw-away. In general I was disappointed with his musical part, it was just too small and kinda stupid. They need to write him better stuff - more melodies and less "oom pah pah".
We jump right into the first love story as Mr. & Mrs. Howell [Ray Doherty and Joanne Engelhardt] express their undying mutual affection with It's Good To Be Rich. Their part has been made deeper and more personal, and reminded me of the Broadway version of The Sound of Music's rich and in-love couple Max and Elsa. Ms. Englehardt has a particularly clear and lovely voice, and she added a lot to all the numbers she was in. Doherty carries a tune well, and held his own.
Almost as soon as they are finished singing, we have a total non-sequiter in the form of Ginger [Carly Honfi] coming out of her hut in a very sexy two-piece sarong outfit, singing Island Lullaby as she did a very attractive hula. Mary Ann [Rena Wilson] joined her, and then Mrs. Howell, and then the men in the cast upstaged them all by showing up in grass skirts. There is a lot of intentional upstaging in this show, and it mostly works. Both young women have spectacular voices, and they can sing me to bed any time.
Now we get to something resembling The Plot. Gilligan [Andrew Ford] discovers some cave drawings, the Professor [Damian Marhefka] interprets the hieroglyphics which seem to show "visitors from the sky" telling the inhabitants "Change your ways or you are doomed" and "we'll be back".
Somewhere in there Mary Ann puts the moves on Gilligan, in her shy, Kansas-raised way, which prompts Ginger to show him how a kiss is supposed to be done, which sends the little buddy into a song and dance reminiscent of Snoppy's Suppertime in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Gilligan's song is called Lucky Guy. And lucky guy sure can dance.
Mary Ann gets a song soon afterward which shows her dilemma, How Do You Know You're In Love? Mary Ann has the best songs in the show, and she has a talent for matching facial expressions and body language to the words which goes above and beyond.
Ginger actually out-Gingers Tina Louise, with a banging body (Jayne Mansfield meets Marilyn Monroe) and moves they would not have been able to show on TV in the 60's. And she does this thing with her lips & teeth which you Just Had To Be There for. The running gag for Ginger is she will launch into a stirring monologue in response to something that's said, or maybe just the current situation, and gives us the Overactors Anonymous interpretation. And just when you think she is the most intelligent and inspiring B actress ever, she quotes the name of the play, the scene, and the author. She got at least two standing ovations for those.
Toward the end of Act I Gilligan meets the "little green man" from the cave paintings, who is, in Real Life, my long-time Menlo Players pal Bob Collier, all 6'7" of him. At least he looks that tall next to the rest of the cast. Bob has transitioned from being super-techie to pretty good actor, and his rich baritone voice works well with the Change Your Ways song.
Act I ends with a stirring number led by the Skipper, as a "Boca Grande" is headed their way. Though Winds May Blow cracked up my date, because the choreography was right out of the finale of Les Mis. While tying everyone down against the oncoming storm, the little buddy gets blown away.
We didn't want an intermission. The show is fast-paced, tightly written, the cast was picking up cues and moving right along, and the hook at the end of the act was irresistible.
I don't want to completely spoil it here, so I'll kind of skirt around Act II, which starts with Mary Ann breaking the audience's heart with Things I Never Said, a classic in the genre, right up there with songs like What I Did For Love and Someone Else's Story. Ms. Wilson made me cry. This should have been a solo number, but the writers decided to bring the rest of the cast into it, and I thought that kind of cheapened the song, and robbed Mary Ann of the much-deserved spotlight.
But she and Gilligan get to reprise the number later on, which sort of made up for it.
Marhefka nails his big solo, The Professor's Lament, where he trots out his dozens of university degree certificates and bemoans the fact that all that education and he can't get 7 people off of an island. He had lots of incredibly complex and difficult lines throughout the show, and handled them effortlessly, and unlike the TV professor, he actually sounded like he knew what he was talking about.
The Howells have another love song, I'll Spend My Time, during which they both get to show off their rather fine ballroom dancing skills. Made me wish I knew how to waltz.
There's some rocket science, and another visit from The Visitor, but I'll leave the rest for you to see for yourself.
Actors Theater Center
Mission City Center for the Performing Arts
3250 Monroe St. (near Wilcox High School - between Bowers and Lawrence Expwy)
408-985-5500 or online at http://www.theatrecenter.biz/id123.html
Sat – Oct 28th 8:00PM
Sun – Oct 29th 2:00P
Tue – Oct 31st 8:00PM
Thu – Nov 2nd 8:00PM
Fri – Nov 3rd 8:00PM
Sat – Nov 4th 8:30PM (Note time) - Closing
$22 per person, senior/student discount. Also, check Artsopolis - they had a half price special Thursday, maybe they will do it again. And note the special Halloween performance.