When evaluating a production, I often contemplate: Should I judge this work for achieving the goals it set for itself, or should I hold it to the same standards as any other show?
Essentially, can you really judge "Anchorman" and "The Seventh Seal" by the same criteria? My answer always has been in the negative, that a show should be assessed by the objectives it was created to accomplish. It's with this idea firmly in mind that "It's a Fabulous Life" succeeds at Richmond Triangle Players.
The musical follows Joe (Chris Hester), the writer and star of a new Christmas musical for a gay theater company. While they rehearse "Randolph the Rainbow Reindeer," Joe must contend with the show's quarreling divas, relationship issues, and that his parents don't want to see him for the holidays with his boyfriend in tow. For some reason, Joe believes that his life would be perfect if only he weren't gay.
Magically, the theater company's former impresario appears to Joe as an angel, and grants him his wish. Playing off of the classic "It's a Wonderful Life," Joe sees what his life would be like if he were heterosexual. Sadly, this fun premise seems like an afterthought, and the show's real point is to serve as a platform for its ridiculous musical numbers.
As staged at the Triangle, the show has more camp than a John Waters movie. There's a Liza Minnelli impersonator (Dan Cimo) and a Hawaiian Santa (Xander H. Wong) singing "Com'On a'Wanna'Laya Christmas." There's the sultry and irresistibly catchy "The Pole Got Hot!" performed as an all-male striptease. And "Helluva Time in Heaven" shows what a gay old time people are having at the pearly gates.
Standouts include Cimo as Carlo/Carlotta, the diva to rule them all; Doug Schneider as the vanilla-suited impresario Arthur; and Craig Smith as Frank, rising above camp with his moving number, "An Angel of My Own." As you'd expect from a show about a gay theater company, the costume design by Alex Valentin is playful and appropriately over the top when it needs to be.
So what if director Keith Fitzgerald is more concerned with casting hunky men instead of the world's strongest singers, or that it isn't always clear if we're watching the musical or the musical within the musical? So what if Marisa Guida's choreography is simplistic at times, or Alex Ginder's set design doesn't have the biggest budget? So what if Joe was just having a bad day, and didn't seem to have much of a reason to wish he weren't gay? So what if the show's first act gets bogged down in diva drama and could excise about three numbers?
The bottom line is that "It's a Fabulous Life" successfully executes its camp, it's a lot of fun, and it's better than the usual saccharine offerings that some holiday stages provide. If the show's problems don't scare you away, it just might fit your criteria for an enjoyable night of theater. S
"It's a Fabulous Life" plays through Dec. 14 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Ave. For information, call 346-8113 or visit rtriangle.org.