Playwrights: David Rogers and Amanda Rogers; Songwriter: Gregg Opelka. At: Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana. Tickets: 219-836-3255 or www.theatreatthecenter.com; $40-$44. Runs through: Aug. 10
Many theater aficionados bemoan how so many new musicals are adaptations of films with household names. So you can guess how negatively they might react to the news that the 1960s TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies has just been turned into a stage musical.
I must admit that I didn't have high hopes going into The Beverly Hillbillies, The Musical in its world premiere production at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind. Alas, the show didn't exceed my already lowered expectations, despite the very high caliber of the cast involved.
If you've missed The Beverly Hillbillies in its perpetual state of TV syndication, then you'll need to know that it's all about the extended Clampett family who become instant millionaires off of their oil-rich land in the Ozarks. Each week, the Clampetts' backwater antics would be played for laughs when contrasted with the modern conveniences and morays of their new home in Beverly Hills, California.
The biggest problems with this musical Beverly Hillbillies have to do with its shoddy script and score structure. The late playwright David Rogers and his daughter, Amanda Rogers, are responsible for the musical's book, which features far too many minor characters and subplots for comfort. It's as though the Rogers tried to cram in at least four Beverly Hillbillies episodes into one show, leaving most of the characters underdeveloped and thinly drawn.
The haphazard script also hampers the score by Jeff Award winner Gregg Opelka. Although Opelka provides a number of catchy songs, their placement throughout the show often frustratingly holds up the actionparticularly in the Act II pursuit of two blackmailers on the run played by Bernie Yvon and Colette Todd. Other times, the songs give a wrong-headed impression about the musical's tone and direction.
For example, Opleka opens the show with an "I want" song that spells out a personal dilemma for the cute-as-a-button Elly May, fetchingly played by Summer Smart. Great as the song may be, it's misleading because Elly May soon recedes into the background as other less-significant characters start taking precedent over what we assumed would be her significant journey through the show.
Despite the sketchily drawn characterizations and clumsy plot mechanics, The Beverly Hillbillies at least receives a grand production at Theatre at the Center. Set designer Ann N. Davis' mansion set is handsomely ornate, while director David Perkovich deserves credit for assembling a talented cast that includes Kelly Anne Clark as Granny and Jim Harms as Jed.
Unless it receives a major structural overhaul, don't expect to see The Beverly Hillbillies, The Musical headed for Broadway any time soon. Go only if you're a die-hard fan of the original TV series and if you want to see characters like Granny or Jed sing.