BACK STAGE WEST
October 24, 2002
HARRY HEART AND THE GREATEST JUG BAND. . . EVER and ON THE RANCH
Who are these kids? The resumes listed a lot of collegiate credits, mostly from USC, and certainly the cast and creators of these two one-act "jug band" musicals had youthful enthusiasm in their favor. Mere youth, however, can't explain the unalloyed, good-hearted silliness of these pitch-perfect pastiches, which ran for two weeks in a cozy new space in Hollywood, the Ivar Brick Box Theatre.
With script and direction by Maria Deluca and music by Josh Charney, Harry Heart and On the Ranch pit naive down-home yokels against craven showbiz sharpies, who both, natch, learn to love each other--or at least do a mean two-step together, in Kate Hutter's engagingly dorky choreography. Make no mistake: From Bert Henert's costumes to Robin Dows and Ashley Moser's sets, these shows here patched together from a motley mix of cartoon, melodrama, sketch comedy, and old-fashioned Broadway tunecraft; on the night reviewed, they occasionally dragged through their well-worn plot/genre devices. But I haven't had so much fun in the theatre in a long time, starting with the pre-show, in which a fresh-faced quartet sat on bales of hay and played modest, folksy renditions of songs by Jane's Addiction, the Cars, and Blink 182. It kicked up a notch when Chris Pine rushed on, with his silky/gritty country tenor and jack-o'-lantern smile, as jug-band singer Harry Heart. Pine had just the right unwinkingly ironic take on this classic na•f, and on his On the Ranch cowpoke, Jim. Will Greenberg was another find--first as a "Vegas-style nightclub" owner with an impenetrable deadpan and a deadly wig, then as Slim, a failed sideshow producer with aw-shucks charm. Holly Gleason got the big ballads in both shows and managed to make On the Ranch's bearded lady sweetly sexy.
And here, I think, was a key to these shows' success: They laughed with us at their hoary conventions--but under the bright, light, ironic surface was genuine feeling, most of it conveyed by Charney's melodious, accomplished score and Deluca's witty, well-crafted lyrics. I look forward to more from these talented babes in arms.
"Harry Heart and the Greatest Jug Band Ever/On the Ranch," presented by Maria DeLuca at Ivar Brick Box Theatre, 1608 Cosmo St., Hollywood. Closed. 90 min. $12 (or $5 with EdgeFest passport). (213) 924-7233.