Imperfectly funny Cruisified

Elton John, Tom Cruise and Veronica (of Archie fame) have their game faces on in The Passion of the Ice: Cruisified.
Elton John, Tom Cruise and Veronica (of Archie fame) have their game faces on in The Passion of the Ice: Cruisified.
Mel Gibson makes a return to his Braveheart days at Clark Hall Pub.
Mel Gibson makes a return to his Braveheart days at Clark Hall Pub.

Theatre Review: Queen’s Players’ The Passion of the Ice: Cruisified

It’s difficult to determine what artistic standards should be applied to a production explicitly built around offensive humour, massive alcohol consumption, group sing-a-longs, and raising money for charity—after all, no one wants to come out against laughter, good times, and philanthropy, but bad theatre is bad theatre. Luckily, last Friday’s performance of The Passion of the Ice: Cruisified was good by most standards, if perfect by none.

The plot of this fall’s Queen’s Players production, such as it is, revolves around the efforts of Robin Leach (Tim Daugulis), the voice of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and The Fabulous Life Of ..., to remain employed by rescuing a host of celebrities from the brink of obscurity or voluntary retirement in Kingston, including Alanis Morissette (Brooke Harrison), Vanilla Ice (Andy Lampard), Elton John (Jim Robinson), Madonna (Katie Mills), Mel Gibson (Tom Lowden), Brad Pitt (Steve Schadinger), Angelina Jolie (Laura Tremblay), and Tom Cruise (Dain Wallis). Leach is opposed by Joan Rivers (Megan MacKeigan), who encourages the stars to give up their fame and settle in Kingston, “the Rohypnol capital of the world,” assisted by the cheerfully oversexed Betty (Raili Lakanen) and Veronica (Carly Heffernan).

Any show that begins with video footage of AMS President Ethan Rabidoux vomiting outside of The Plaza Hotel starts with audience goodwill to burn. Friday’s performance attracted a particularly enthusiastic crowd of Players alumni and QMT members, but solid ensemble work like the opening medley and a truly impressive a capella version of “Afternoon Delight” won respect regardless of your allegiance.

The individual musical numbers were somewhat uneven. Lakanen struggled to make her character Betty stand out all night, never quite appearing comfortable on stage, and her rendition of No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” was unfortunately subdued and reserved though technically adequate. The band’s atypically sloppy accompaniment didn’t help. The incredible spectacle of Robinson’s sloppy drinking during “Ignition (Remix)” didn’t make him sound better, but certainly entertained. For every questionable performance there were a couple of excellent ones to keep the show afloat. The girls came out on top with Mills’ sexy, down tempo jazz version of “Toxic,” showcasing an impressive vocal range and ability to move, and Tremblay’s “Pride (In The Name of Love),” combining talent, natural presence, and ability to interact with the audience, commanded everyone’s attention.

All the songs were accompanied by entertaining choreography which combined literalism, interpretive dance, rampant bird-flipping and during the opening number, what can only be described as a spanking solo. Meanwhile, the band (composed of Mike Butlin, Graham Janson, Fil Jones, James Smith, Dan Simmons and Derek Zweip) kept the focus on the cast while taking advantage of opportunities to shine, with Jones’ saxophone a particularly constructive addition.

Most of the weaknesses in the production seemed to lie with the script, which left some cast members without much to work with and squandered a few promising opportunities. Brad Pitt’s characterization as a surprisingly sexually naïve ditz gave Schadinger little interesting or funny material, which was more regrettable after his charismatic country version of “Gin and Juice” and Alanis Morissette’s presence couldn’t be justified solely by a few obnoxious screeches. Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Betty, and Mel Gibson all occasionally suffered from having no good reason to keep the audience’s attention. Joan Rivers was irritating, but MacKeigan gamely did her best with what she had, showing ample comedic potential.

A second-act skit about the arbitrary plotlines of The O.C. took aim at an easy target but was too lazy to hit the bull’s-eye. However, sketches parodying Canadian Idol for washed-up celebrities and the Aberdeen symposium were executed with a successful balance of cleverness and obscenity—whether Karen Hitchcock trying to fellate a townie is political commentary or just physical comedy is up to the audience. The script also respected the inverse relationship between the number of vagina jokes and the general quality of a Players show, mostly sparing us until the typically drunker, dirtier, and more disconnected second half.

Heffernan and Daugilis carried the show as formidable triple threats at singing, acting, and drinking. Heffernan maintained high energy and stayed in character even as the lake of beer on stage grew ever larger, and took advantage of every great line and dirty joke that came her way. Her performance of “Shout” was the undeniable musical highlight of the evening, showing off her clear upper range, assertive command of the audience, and a tight groove from the band. Daugilis’ impression of Leach’s accent stayed dead-on all night, and while his version of “Take Me Out” was more merely good than mind-blowing, his confidence and ability to react to the unexpected anchored all of his scenes. Jim Robinson as Elton John also deserves special note for staying funny and fabulous all night, even as things began to descend into shouty incoherence.

With increasing signs of inebriation both on stage and off, the closer, “Under Pressure,” turned into a sham-bolic circus of noise, followed by a disorganized jamboree encore of “Complicated.” But Players is more about the moment than reflecting on the moment, and this show provided enough great musical and comedic moments to avoid wasting your time. Also, I learned a lot about the correct nomenclature for sexual acts involving excrement, which I’m pretty sure falls under “the broader learning environment,” promised in Queen’s brochures.

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