Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy
Music and Book by Bill Robertson, Tom Sage and Cliff Wagner
Directed by Dan Bonnell
Starring an ensemble cast with Nina Brissey, Robert Craighead, Rachel Knoll, Kristal Lynn Lockyear, Elijah Rock, Jonathan Root, Jason Rowland and Michael Rubenstone,
Presented by The Ruskin Group Theatre with Kevin & Geric Frost. ruskingrouptheatre.com
You had me at “bluegrass.”
As soon as I heard the descriptor “bluegrass musical,” I was in line to sell my soul. Paradise at The Ruskin Theatre (where I often go of my own accord because everything there is so good) is a musical comedy yet with fiddles and banjoes and foot stompin’ and guys with bushy beards. It’s campy, it’s kooky, and it’s sometimes cringe-worthy - but only in that really good way. (The band is the remarkable Old #7. Be sure to check them out here.)
The setting is a small, Bible beltish town far from here where modern life has not recently visited. But do they really want the 21st century and a sparkly mega-church there? Would it still be Paradise then? When a fast-talking preacher with big ideas and a reality show producer and crew show up, the hapless inhabitants of Paradise are helpless to resist the juggernaut of fame and fortune. What happens when the truth comes out is the story itself, a story where everything can become a stripper pole.
The townies are the stereotypical batch of folks who’ve lived together so long that their lives fit together like gears in a watch. There’s Cindi, the town goofball, played with a crazy amount of energy by Kristal Lynn Lockyear. Louann, played by Rachel Knoll, runs the general store and holds Paradise’s sense of calm and reason. Why? Because the Mayor, played by Jason Rowland, is a germophobe who is incapable of truly seeing much of anything including his adopted son, Tater, played by Elijah Rock. Paradise was ripe for the picking.
So when an ambitious preacher shows up, played sinfully well by Jonathan Root, it’s time to shake things up. Michael Rubenstone is Peter, the Hollywood cameraman who manages to see things through his lens that others cannot. (Might I add that Mr. Rubenstone has a snappy sense of rhythm, as well?) Nina Brissey, taking a break from her obviously grueling schedule of Pilates, Bar, and Krav Maga classes, plays the stripper with a heart of gold and a spine of steel who must try to resist the preacher’s relentless advances.
The interlopers and their selfish intentions make the residents of Paradise realize who they really are. At the end of the road where fame and the redemption of the mega-church are waiting, each person—including the outsiders—must seek his or her own reality and define the currency of happiness. It’s a delightful bonus that Paradise has a message and a plot to follow, because the songwriting and the singing and the music is all so durn good that Paradise would be over-the-top-entertaining with even the thinnest of storylines. And that’s something to get down on your knees and be thankful for.
PARADISE - A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through March 30, 2013. Hiatus until April 12th when performances continue on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through May 4, 2013 (no performance Sunday, April 28th). Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors, and guild members) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244. For more information please visit www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Free parking is available at the theater.
Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica CA 90405
Free parking is available at the theatre.
Now through March 30, 2013. Hiatus until April 12th, then performances continue on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through May 4, 2013 (no performance Sunday, April 28th).
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Running time is about 90 minutes with one intermission.
$20 for Students, Seniors, and Guild Members