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"Home School Musical," The All American Melodrama Theater and Music Hall

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The production values of Home School Musical, written and directed by Ken Parks, with songs by Parks and Rick Illes, remind us how The All American Melodrama Theater always nails the relationship between atmosphere, story, and acting. Eschewing Beethoven for honky-tonk, pianist Rick Illes, whom you imagine to be a grown-up version of Schroeder in Peanuts, shepherds the before-show tone and manages pace and speed during. The evening felt like recess on a rainy day, so we stayed inside, where it's always sunny, to sing and dance our hearts away.

Always funny, this melodramatic production integrates the spectacle of musical theatre to form an hilarious indictment on the intrusion of for-profit corporate oversight into education. Teachers, principals, students, home-educated and otherwise, and parents should come on a field trip to get schooled, not to mention entertained.

With nary an extraneous gesture, the production was immediate and in-your-face. As with Parks' previous scripts, this one is well-hewn: nicely done set up, complications and happy-ever-after denouement. Generic High School (Go Wild Goats!), the "perfect place for perfect kids," is administered by no-good principal Noah Count (Joe Mattarazzo). A minion of the Funco Corporation (a manufacturer of kids' games), he has to raise average test scores so Funco stock price will rise, so he can procure his bonus. Problem is, all the brainiacs, following the lead of our heroine Amanda Hugginkiss (Emily Pessano), have absconded for the less hypocritical consolations of home school. Count resorts to blackmail (via an arts graduation requirement) to get them back but the home-schooled students --- remember, they're super-smart -- outfox him, thus proving the futility of Funco's business model of di-worse-sification (the usually ill-advised branching out into side enterprises).

So good was the acting and so brilliant were the original songs that the traditional audience response to melodrama ("Aw," for the heroine, "Boo, hiss," for the villain, and "Hurray" for the hero) got turned on its head. When Mattarazzo's Count and Cindy Schultz's Ima Snooty (really, the name says it all), launched into song, their spirited renditions of the outrageous lyrics were so good that we cheered the villains!

The characters and their enactments were delightful. Jonathan Horowitz's Linoleum Frostbite perfectly captured the not-so-subtle nuances of Napoleon Dynamite: the don't-bother-me voice, the slumped over posture and the quirky movements. Never in the history of melodrama could you imagine a more unlikely and yet it-grows-on-you pairing of him and his romantic coeval, Keri Scary (Amber Hubbard) an emo (emotionally disturbed person) whose in-her-head voices were really more a matter of Marconi than Mephistopheles. Parks' "heeeeeey duuuuude" Troy Teflon, badminton stud, closeted American Idol wannabe, was gawky yet sincere, the perfect foil for his true love, Amanda -- math geek, Harvard-aspirant. If you can imagine Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney done by Saturday Night Live, you'll get the picture. Schultz's Ima was a perfect 90210 Tori Spelling in many ways, especially after her secret identity was revealed.

Being a musical as well as a melodrama, the production was song-heavy, each of which made us feel light-hearted. There were songs of yearning to be back in a traditional school setting, of dreams for the future, of first love, a song that extolled Funco which tore a page out of Gilbert and Sullivan, a very funny spoof song about songs in teenage musicals and, the most clever of all in an evening of clever songs, a stupendous parody of a Mary Poppins song that described Keri's character called -- are you ready? -- "Supercaliforniateenwhodoestelekinesis."

Performances are 7:30pm, Fri. & Sat, 4:30pm, Sat., and 7pm, Sun. The show runs until Sept. 26. Tickets are $14-20. The Theater is located at 429 Shoreline Village Drive, Long Beach. For more info call (562) 495-5900 or visit www.allamericanmelodrama.com.
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