As the hip-hop film version of Bye Bye Birdie languishes in development hell, this new musical by Doug Cooney (librettist/lyricist) and David O (composer/music director) provides a welcome substitute. An easygoing morality fable about the younger generation's obsession with celebrity, this premiere production, under the spirited direction of Corey Madden, provides fun for all age groups.
Cooney's narrative is an odyssey of self-discovery, as a narcissistic rock idol and a nerdish 12-year-old boy learn lessons of humility and self-esteem during a nightlong excursion through the streets of Los Angeles. Alex (Steve Muterspaugh) realizes his longtime dream when he meets superstar rock singer Royce (Kevin Artigue) following a concert, and they become fast friends. Image-conscious Royce temporarily discards his shaggy wig and dark shades, making him unrecognizable, and the pals embark on a night of adventure through the cultural byways of L.A. after dark. Their travels take them to myriad places, such as dance clubs and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as they mingle with homeless people, bus passengers, and street peddlers. Alex learns that his idealized hero is less admirable than expected and realizes that he possesses heroic traits of his own.
The versatile performers tap the material's musical and comedic potential. As the self-obsessed entertainer, Artigue swivels and struts his way through a gem of a comic performance. He's matched by Muterspaugh's charming characterization of a likeable but lonely youngster who desperately yearns to be what he envisions as cool. The supporting performers—Dustin Fasching, Jamey Hood, Peter Musante, and Emma Barton—excel in multiple roles. Hood's uproarious turn as a washed-up singer now pushing Slurpees in a convenience store is highlighted by Cooney's hilarious lyrics, which compare munching a Twinkie to experiencing fleeting fame. The numbers—rock, pop, Broadway-style, hip-hop—are witty, lively, and well-integrated into the action. Ameenah Kaplan's dazzling choreography underlines cultural diversity. Keith Mitchell's graffiti-strewn set captures an appropriately gritty feel, enhanced by Ingrid Ferrin's colorful costumes and Don Luce's wonderful lighting effects. Cooney and O's sweet confection is more satisfying than a box full of Ding Dongs.
"The Legend of Alex," presented by and at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica. Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Aug. 27-Sept. 26. $15. (866) 633-6246.