Theatergoers who just wanna have fun, no emotional strings attached, can find their way to Carnegie's Main Street for the bit of silliness and song "Viva Los Bastarditos!"
The zany musical won the Audience Favorite Award at the FringeNYC Festival in 2010, and no wonder. It's engaging in its over-the-top brand of crazy -- super-heated marshmallows, killer owls and a puppet ghost are tips of the iceberg.
The occasionally coherent story has a rock band leading a rebellion against land-grabbing tyrants, who are terrorizing fictional Western Massachusetts. There's a connection to the real-life Quabbin Reservoir, which displaced hundreds of people to create the main source of water for the Boston area, but knowing that may intrude on the "Bastarditos" experience. Better to just go with it.
As is often the case in musical comedy, the most engaging character is the villain. Andrew Swackhamer is so committed to his portrayal of dastardly Dancin' Eddie Danson, you can't wait to see what he'll try next. He first appears as a hair-band singer, howling and gyrating, before he's revealed as a mad karaoke contestant. He moves on to a scheme that will help him rise to power and bring down his nemeses, The Pickles, the popular power-pop trio comprising pretty-boy frontman Sandy (dark-haired David Bielewicz), vulgar Brit Bob White-Brown (Brad Stephenson) and clueless Snoozy (Luke Bruehlman). Mr. Stephenson leaves the biggest impression, with his frequent use of the f-word and, late in the game, a stirring lead vocal on "Western Mass."
Mr. Bielewicz and Hayley Nielsen (City Theatre's "Little Gem") as his love interest, Danny, make an attractive couple amid the mayhem -- note the name reference to "Grease's" Danny and Sandy. Other talented local actors include Daina Michelle Griffith as Summer and Jason Shavers as Flood Man. When the humble folks of Western Massachusetts are threatened with ridiculously high payments by fraudulent landowners, The Pickles don masks to become Los Bastarditos. Let the rebellion begin!
Many references by writer-composer Jake Oliver were probably too rooted in nostalgia for the mostly student audience on a sold-out Saturday night. For instance, to enter into the land scheme with forger Pop Johnson (Everett Lowe), Eddie transforms into a don -- Don Knotts -- while Johnson becomes Don Johnson and his daughter, Donna Summer. The dons change the town's name to Knots Landing, and there are lyrics that rhyme "Kristy McNichol" with "pickle." If you're a child of the 1960s or '70s, you'll be in on the jokes.
No Name's Don DiGiulio directs by giving the cast permission to let the insanity flow. Music director Joseph P. Stamerra and fellow keyboardist Jeremy F. Richter, guitarist Nathan Zoob and drummer Daniel Kelley propel the action and boost the guitar-playing Pickles/Bastarditos into a reasonable facsimile of a low-rent band.
The 96-seat Off the Wall space makes for an engaging experience, even if you find yourself scratching your head as to what it all means. Don't sweat it. If you are in need of a respite from summer seriousness, "Viva Los Bastarditos!" brings on the silly and doesn't let up.
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960.