Smile Politely

Celebration Company prevails over predictable cliches in Ug!

I have to admit that shortly after the opening curtain for Ug, The Caveman Musical, I caught myself nearly praying that the show would turn into more than a Flintstones-style musical revue — and it certainly does.

Let it be known that no part of the following section of criticism is directed, specifically, at the Station’s production, but rather the sometimes cliché-ridden work as it was written.

Ug, as part of its charm and seemingly arbitrarily assigned dramatic constraint, traffics frequently in cheesy, Neanderthal-oriented jokes and puns. The apex of this is probably the very catchy, in a musical-theatre-style sort of way, “The Cooking Song,” which spends verse after verse explaining, (in the exact same formula) how to cook boar, fish, snakes, etc. It’s pointless, serving only to stretch out the worst of the script while allowing the otherwise unexploited vocal talent of the tight ensemble cast to shine, although it feels like it’s included specifically for that purpose.

As a general rule, the opening exposition of the play (the first five songs or so) moves far too slowly and is mired in the corny caveman caricatures that the authors conceived and in the arduous act of setting up plot-lines that are, self-consciously and purposely, I admit, so transparent and obvious that there need be no effort in even attempting to ground them. For instance, a little more care to the idea of inventing monogamy at the expense of a few fire hot! jokes might have gone a long way in tightening up the show.

Thankfully things start to shift as the show grows a plot, and as an audience member I began to find myself engrossed in Ug‘s humor. Was it my imagination or did the music become a bit more interesting about that moment, too? Once our hero, Ug, begins to invent theatre, the caveman-constraint works for the ensemble and they work it hard moving into the second act, which honestly turns into laugh-per-millisecond, with precisely acidic comedic timing.

So ends my critique of the written script and begins my review of the Celebration Company at the Station‘s performance.

Honestly, its rare that I think I’ve seen the Station pull so much energy and professionally expert enthusiasm into one production. Creative costuming, expert lighting, tight instrumentation (and arrangement, apparently), solid vocals, and silly-to-smooth, entertaining choreography, alongside excellent cast chemistry. Oh yeah, and remember how I mentioned in my preview that set ate up all kinds of ridiculous time? It was totally worth it.

Could be that, after having participated in my own share of high school musicals, I have a personal vendetta against them some way or another. In a recent conversation, somebody brought to me the notion that musicals are American lazy-work because they ride half-talents in several different genres and glue them together in one ad hoc mess. While that may be true of a significant chunk of the musical’s heyday, since the sixties, especially, I feel like there’s been an outgrowth of incredibly engaging work put together, right up against the still admittedly lazy, cash-driven jukebox musicals of recent memory.

The flip-side is that, simultaneously, musical theatre allows for a kaleidoscopic explosion of talents to cohere in one unit. This is what happens with Ug, and it definitely makes the spectacle worth watching. Down to his actors’ unique postures, as well as the side-bits that complete and round out all musical numbers and non-verbal stage-time, director David Barkley has an incredible eye for detail. The Company brings out the absolute best in material that could have started out lackluster or uninspired. I only wish that Corbin Dixon and Jeff McGill had gotten to showcase their incredibly developed vocal chops with songs that weren’t haphazardly slapped into the middle.

It seems that, for this production, the book provided more of the genesis than the final say, and our Celebration Company poured in incredible energy on all fronts, not so much to realize the vision of the page, but to create a new one that is, truly, hilarious and something to watch. The prime example of this may be the nearly show-stealing performance of the nearly naked Grant Morenz as Chief Oolooki of the Tall People, the Emperor who is blissfully unaware that he, indeed, quite literally, is not wearing clothes. The script does have, I must admit as well, its own moments of pure comedic brilliance that even the worst company could hardly foul-up, such as the prayerful number, “Now You Owe Me.”

Bottom-line: this play is fun. It well make you laugh, and frequently, it will make you laugh very hard, so try not to take in too many cups of Station’s complimentary tea/coffee, lest you ruin their seats. This is not the heady stuff, like Rhinoceros or Body of Water, nor need it be. Station is versatile, and in the end, the actual success of this easy-going comedy is a testament to their vital willingness to tackle all sorts of material, and to do it well. No need to be a dramatic connoisseur to bring a date or ditch the movies for a night at Ug.

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Ug, The Caveman Musical, runs two more weeks through the 17th at Station Theatre.

July: 8,9,10,11 14,15,16,17
All shows at 8:00 pm
Ticket prices:

  • Wednesday: $8.00
  • Thursday & Sunday: $10.00
  • Friday & Saturday: $15.00
  • Senior/student discount of $1 is available upon request

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Credit for all images in this article goes to Jesse Folks, all rights reserved.

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