In the center of NOTE's tiny stage, standing at least a solid 6 or 7 feet high, is a replica of the Tower. Fringes of red and silver tinsel wave and shimmer inside the windows--an obvious hint of what's to come. Then, like the hot blast from a furnace, the sizzling pre-show music assaults us. Songs like "Hot Stuff" and "Hot, Hot, Hot" immediately encourage the audience to embrace the campy mood for this silly late-night spoof of that blazing disaster epic, The Towering Inferno.
Written and directed by Bill Robens and Steve Marca, The Towering Inferno: The Musical burns through roughly 90 minutes of bad jokes, low-tech thrills and chills, and a few scattered songs that, except for the catchy Psycho-sounding opening number and one about stout-hearted San Francisco firemen (songs are not identified in the program), never really catch fire. But spit-and-polish perfection is clearly not the goal here. Diversion, a sense of fun, and late-night laughs are all that await this particular finish line. And with that criteria--and despite the irritating cackles of friends in the audience who feel compelled to scream and laugh uproariously at every little bit, whether it works or not--the show generally succeeds.
Credit much of that success to Stacy Mathewson, who plays hot-headed "Paul Newman as Doug (the Architect)" with a hilarious degree of super-macho manliness and blistering bravado. Robens is also notable in his embellishment of "Richard Chamberlain as Frank Simmons," the swaggering alcoholic contractor whose cost-saving cutbacks are responsible for the conflagration. And further fanning flames of comedy are Miguel Montalvo, Amy Roulet, and choreographer Leanne Fonteyn, dressed in black and red and sparkling with sequins, who personify Fire in all its smoldering-to-raging permutations.
Kiff Scholl and Dorie Barton's costumes and props also elicit many laughs, from the powder-blue tuxedos and hideous polyesters of the period to the tiny helicopter that swirls above the Tower while the rooftop rescue mission is underway.
It may not be great theatre, but there's enough sizzle here to make the heat of a summer's night far more enjoyable.