Upon entering the theatre, one is bombarded with a medley of pink and blue. The set, by Jay Vetter, is a bubble-gum delight, so sweet it crosses into sickly. The theatre has been transformed into a television studio for a cheesy talk show, the Tell Veronica Show, à la Jerry Springer mixed with Oprah, in which unsuspecting guests will be pressured to reveal their secrets for national consumption.
After a warm-up guy in a pink jacket (the appealing Brian Kimmet) shows the audience the ropes ("Clapping hands are happy hands!") we are introduced to the host. Charlene Tilton's Veronica, with spiked hair and a silvery white suit, is small and powerful. She bursts onto the stage and begins a barrage of words and winks. Tilton wants to win us over to her side and we want to go—it looks so fun over there—but in the end it just doesn't happen. She laughs a lot, displaying the humor instead of playing the nutty reality—a method that might yield more laughs from her than from us.
The supporting cast members, all probably funny in their own right, mix here in a one-note comic attack. The numerous nod-and-wink jokes combine with Lucille Ball silliness to create a sort of lumpy, humorless stew. The characters lack the one ingredient that made Lucy loveable: They lack real, if insane, need. And they lack humanity.
Director Robert Adler is going for broke. He makes big and admirable choices and fills the piece with detail, but there are so many jokes here it becomes hard to take. Adler's nonstop pageantry can't make up for the lack of substance; it is all frosting and no cake. Written by Tony Jerris, the play doesn't offer much to bite into. In mocking commercialized fluff, it has become just that. Perhaps that's because talk shows have already become a mockery of themselves. They have taken their schlocky sentiment and cruelty so far, it's hard to take it any further.
"Tell Veronica," presented by TV Productions and at the Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. July 19-Aug. 26. $25. (323) 856-4200.