Calling occupants of the 1970s (and those who may have wished to experience the decade, but weren't born yet) run don't walk this weekend to the Hudson Theatre's gloriously fun Are You There God, It's Me Karen Carpenter. Like a lost, treasured Afterschool Special, this production is a celebration of Judy Blume's classic coming-of-age novel married with the stellar hits of The Carpenters.
Conceived, written and directed by Dane Whitlock, the show follows prepubescent Margaret (Carey Peters) as she and her post-Woodstock parents (Drew Droege and Brad Griffith), venture into a new home smack dab in the middle of suburban Nixon/Ford-era New Jersey. Angst-ridden Margaret, and her gal pals, are making the awkward transition from girlhood to adolescence; desperate to experience having breasts, menstrual periods, and kissing boys on the lips.
Familiar Carpenters standards such as "Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun," and "Top of the World" weave a perfect macramed mesh with Blume's vision of blossoming womanhood. Even Karen Carpenter herself (drumsticks, '70s tunic, flowing chestnut brown hair, and all) appears to Margaret as a comforting friend. One of the show's finest qualities is its big heart, and its reverence for Blume and Carpenter's work respectively.
Peters gives a wondrous performance as Margaret, and the ensemble sparkles as they sing their hearts out with a bright Brady-esque warmth. Joe Donahoe particularly shines as Margaret's secret crush, Moose. Whitlock notes that the same actors have remained intact from the beginning, having performed the show together in multiple theatres for nearly three years when they began in the director's living room. The familial quality of the cast glimmers through in the performances.
"Top of the World" (The Carpenters playing live from the White House for President Nixon and the West German Chancellor, 1973)
With mash-ups being one of the show's running themes, it's only appropriate that Drew Droege, an impressive comic actor, hilariously morph into all of the show's multiple "mom" roles channeling bits of Rhoda Morgenstern, Edna Garrett, Mrs. Roper, Sigourney Weaver in The Ice Storm, and various John Waters heroines.
About Droege's ladies, Whitlock laughs, "Each mom is medicated on something different."
The holidays are a new theme to this weekend's production with Margaret experiencing her first Hanukkah party, and the Carpenters' hit Christmas single, "Merry Christmas Darling."
"Merry Christmas Darling" (1970)
Whitlock says, "I'm doing this show just for the joy of doing it." And it's a mutual joy for those lucky enough to follow Margaret through all her rainy days and Mondays.
Are You There God, It's Me Karen Carpenter runs til December 9 on The Hudson Theatre's Main stage (6539 Santa Monica Blvd -- corner of Hudson). Reservations: 323-960-7738. www.hudsontheatre.com