While some celebrate Octoberfest with pretzels, brats and beer, leave it to artsy Laguna Beach to come up with something more unique and non-fattening: “Lagunatics.”
The annual musical roasts everything and everyone, from the city council to meter maids, to tourists and traffic jams, to building inspectors and day laborers, from sea lions to canyon goats.
Fill in in your own peeve and chances are that writers Bree Burgess Rosen and Chris Quilter, along with musical director Roxanna Ward and choreographer Paul Nygro, will have turned it into song and dance numbers that skewer the town’s flaws and transform them into side-splitting merriment.
That is if the last 20 years are any indication. “Lagunatics” celebrates its second decade with this year’s production, “Schlock and Awe,” at the Festival of Arts Forum Theater for two weekends beginning Saturday Oct. 13.
As it was initially in 1992, Joe Lauderdale directs this year’s production, again co-written by founder Rosen and Quilter. Choreographer Paul Nygro, as he has off and on for at least 14 years, will take audiences on a trip through the last 10 years. The first decade was summed up in 2002, explained Rosen.
“It’s a retrospective where everything old becomes new again, but we threw out songs that require a lot of explanation,” said Rosen. That means that the troupe of 45 will revisit a playlist of 25, a twisted town history lesson about the nixed sale of the Girl Scout House, dog poop, nudity in the Pageant of Disasters, and the toll road among many others, she said.
“There has been a really good consistency to the show. Through the years we have not only looked at Laguna Beach but at what was going on in the rest of the country,” said Lauderdale. “The great thing is that there is always something new to skewer and that there really are no sacred cows. People have a great sense of humor and they get it.”
The show includes cast members recently seen in the No Square Theatre production “Ruthless,” such as Nygro, who embodied the irrepressible Sylvia St. Croix, and four-year veteran Lisa Mansour. Other cast members include performer-about-town Pat Kollenda, and elected officials Toni Iseman, Jane Egly and Verna Rollinger. Over the years, cast members have gone and returned. Turnover is minimal. “Lagunatics” does not hold open auditions.
This year former Laguna Beach police chief Jim Spreine will return from his retirement home in Washington state to reprise his old number “Montage Cash,” (based on the song “Monster Mash”) at the closing gala, Sunday, Oct. 28.
“I won’t have a lot of time to rehearse but it will be a lot of fun for me,” said Spreine, who loved his job on the police force and felt honored to be its chief, but had misgivings about becoming a performer. “I told Bree that I am not an artist. I’d rather face five armed robbery suspects than go up on stage,” he recalled.
Evidently Rosen succeeded in coaxing the reluctant hoofer under the proscenium arch. She reminisced about Spreine bringing down the house in 2005 with his heartfelt vocals in “I’ve Grown Accustomed to this Place,” based on the signature song from “My Fair Lady.”
“When everyone bowed at the end with a rose and gave it to Jim, there was not a dry eye in the house. It still gives me goosebumps remembering it,” she said.
As the show’s choreographer, Nygro has garnered less attention, but he too will perform at the closing gala. So how does a choreographer achieve a perfectly calibrated show with otherwise capable performers who lack dance training? “I do my home work by studying the story behind each song and then map the whole show out in my head even before I get to the theater so I can teach the numbers as quickly as possible,” he said. “There’ve been times when I had to teach people how to walk to music but by the time the show goes on, everything functions seamlessly.”
“Lagunatics” has not only been about laughter and fun but also about helping the community. Most years, depending on the financial fortunes of No Square Theatre, Rosen has contributed sizable portions of the revue’s profits to causes like World Aids Day, Laguna Beach Community Clinic, the Susi Q Senior Center, Ballet Pacifica and others.
Grants from the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, the Festival of Arts Foundation, the Laguna Board of Realtors and the city of Laguna Beach keep No Square going. In addition, Rosen auctions off a role in “Lagunatics” to a member of the community as a fundraiser. “We have always been a fund raiser. Somewhere when there is a crisis, we share our money,” she said.
Photos by Luann Pirillo