April 30, 2004





Smokin' grooves, but sketchy humor


Testosterone is the reigning chemical in "The Days When Cocaine Was King," a wannabe guilty pleasure as crudely constructed as it is crude.


It's purportedly the story of the Larrys, a novelty rock band whose fortysomething members provide live music at stageside while actors play their younger, '70s-vintage selves.


Sex gets more play here than either drugs or rock 'n' roll, in director John J. Fanelli's rambling, half-cocked sketch comedy script. Indeed, this is less a backstager about a band's rise and fall than a backseater--a tittering male fantasy about strapping young frontman Ro Chambeaux (Josh Thorpe).


Ro's dilemma: to win back hot Juanita (Giselli Tongi) after she catches him in a hot-tub threesome with his ex, Carla (Rennie Salomon), and a new friend.


Sound like fun? If only. The proceedings alternate uneasily between the Larrys' semiscripted goofery and the actors' let's-put- on-a-show portrayals.


There's some snappy choreography for a lithe young chorus by Tania L. Pearson, and the band unleashes some smokin' grooves.


Thorpe is a good sport who looks sleek in Jyothi Doughman's period duds. As his bassist, Brandon Loeser is an ingratiating frat- boy imp. And Tongi has a lovely solo late in the show, by which point it's like finding a cherry in a spittoon.


The evening's emcee, the "real" Ro Chambeaux, has more costume changes than Liberace and a Phil Hartman-like ironic shamelessness. But with shtick so witlessly puerile, the result is more embarrassing than shocking.

-- Rob Kendt


"The Days When Cocaine Was King," Stage Music Productions at the American Renegade Theatre, 11138 Magnolia Ave., North Hollywood. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Ends May 29. $20. (888) 709-2653. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.