By William S. Oser
Suds: The Rocking 60’s Musical Soap Opera is playing at Venice Theatre’s Pinkerton Theatre. When I first saw the show listed last year in the season announcements I thought it was fairly new, but no—this show has been kicking around regional theaters for a number of years now.
Created and written by Melinda Gilb, Steve Gunderson and Bryan Scott, we find ourselves in a laundromat where our heroine Cindy is excited to be having a birthday. But no, it is not to be a happy one, as multiple dark clouds form over her. Her pen pal boyfriend sends her a note dumping her, and that is just the beginning. Two guardian angels, Marge and DeeDee, arrive to save her from a fate that would be death, and there are a series of men popping in and out, all played by one actor. All this is set to 50 soft rock/pop songs of the 1960s and into the ’70s. Yes, its a jukebox musical, but there is a story of sorts and a book with plenty of groaner jokes, perfectly in style for the period. The vocal arrangements by Steve Gunderson are top notch, so all a theater has to do is provide a sensational cast, add in a fine music director, additional musicians, and a director to keep things lively and smasheroo.
High school junior (really, at least according to the program) Natalie Taylor is adorably cute and perky as our heroine Cindy. This young lady owns the stage; she is a whirlwind of talent. Charlotte Crowley is Marge, the more seasoned of the two Guardian Angels, half Jersey Housewife, one-quarter fading cheerleader, and one-quarter something else, but we recognize the type. Cait Spain makes her Florida stage debut. These ladies can all sing, and sing real good! Solos are all well done and they listen to each other to blend for ensemble. Brian Craft completes the cast. He doesn’t have much to do in the first act, but contributes nicely in the second, though the role doesn’t offer that many opportunities to shine. If it did, Mr. Craft, always dependable, would deliver.
Director/choreographer Steven Flaa directed one of the funniest shows I have ever seen, early in my Florida residence, The Big Bang. Suds is just the kind of show that plays to his strengths. All the ladies dance well, comic bits are nicely staged, and the audience is greatly entertained. Although the music that forms the backbone of this show is not really my cup of tea normally, I had a rollicking good time.
Tim Wisgerhof’s scenic design is amazing. The washers, complete with coin mechanisms, look like you could dump a load of laundry right in, load up the quarters (things were cheaper back then), and plop yourself down in a molded plastic, mostly uncomfortable chair to wait. Jeannette Rybicki’s costumes are gloriously of the period. Sound design by Dorian Boyd is dependable, as always.
Music director Denise Hoff leads the liveliest ensemble I have heard recently. She is assisted by Luca Stine on violin and trumpet (excellent trumpet, far outclassing a professional often heard in theater pit bands, whose playing has been a bit ragged recently), Tommy Busch on guitar and bass, and Joel Broome on drums.
Suds is hugely entertaining. One thing I found particularly interesting is that none of the cast members lived through the period the music comes from, and several are at least a whole generation removed. Still, they get it. This show is great fun.