Todd Haynes wept: Ringwald’s Murder She Podcast … Baby One More Crime

Richard Payton as Jessica Fletcher

“Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.”

“Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment. It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different—a supplementary—set of standards.”

“The connoisseur of Camp [finds pleasure] in the coarsest, commonest pleasures, in the arts of the masses.”

Susan Sontag

Some of us old geezers might recall that auteur filmmaker Todd Haynes once directed a biographical film treatment of Karen Carpenter’s life – Superstar – using only Barbie dolls. Either Mattel or Karen’s creepy brother filed a cease and desist, and the film has only seen the light of day in bootleg copies on eBay.

Fortunately, Ringwald Theatre’s latest offering Murder She Podcast … Baby One More Crime has just arrived to fill that void.

Part of me doesn’t want to write a word as I don’t want to spoil any of the loopy fun for you. How do I net this out? Sublime Richard Payton channels Angela Lansbury‘s TV classic amateur sleuth/crime novelist Jessica Fletcher, now hosting an au courant pandemic “true crime” podcast. Pop singer Britney Spears, the recent subject of a tell-all documentary (#savebritney) appears to have been abducted and possibly murdered.

Spoiler alert, but as the cat is out of the bag via Ringwald‘s promotional materials, local legend Dave Davies is arguably the perfect thespian stand-in for Ms. Spears. He may be worth the price of admission alone. Never ridiculing his character, but fully in on the joke as to how absurd it is that he is playing the “Toxic” songstress, he is an absolute riot, both in TikTok style “found footage” and in podcast interview mode. I dearly hope there is a sequel.

Ringwald’s merry band of usual mischief makers is on hand in supporting roles. Joe Bailey is a gleeful Sherriff Amos Tupper, Fletcher’s dim bulb sidekick whose outsized adoration of Spears leads to a series of comedically nonsensical allegations. Suzan M. Jacokes is understated genius as harried producer Andrew Lark. Joel Mitchell nails Gene Smart, a store clerk whose great tragedy in life is being assigned his least favorite cash register. Nicole Pascaretta channels the sheltered charms of Britney’s baby sis Jamie Lynn. Dyan Bailey commands her moment as a Linda Ellerbee (remember her?) style newscaster. And Donny Riedel and Cory Shorter nicely round out the team as (respectively) hellzapoppin superfan Chris Crocker and louche hairdresser Jeffrey Bean.

The genius of the Ringwald is that they mine every aspect of pop-culture for mash-ups that are as unexpected as they are strangely logical. These are smart people using silly situations to comment on the real life comic tragedy of modern America. Susan Sontag meets Charles Busch meets Carol Burnett.

But back to the Barbie dolls. One of the great pleasures of seeing Ringwald’s evolution in pandemic is the way they are leveraging video production, one of the highlights of their prior stage work. Brandy Joe Plambeck deftly directs (with assistance from Dyan Bailey, Vince Kelley, and Katy Schoetzow) from a jam-packed script by Kelley and Matthew Arrington. Much like last winter’s Have Yourself a Misery Little Christmas, their filmed format has allowed the troupe to step up their production values exponentially. In that context, the lunacy has a beautifully heightened quality. The polish is in nice juxtaposition to the camp.

As for the dolls, when Sheriff Tupper devolves into his multiple theories surrounding Britney Spears’ disappearance, the reenactments are staged using Barbie dolls, playhouse furniture, and assorted other pink plastic accoutrements. It adds a layer of meta-commentary on American materialism and shallow celebrity obsession that is chiefly comic but more than a bit haunting. As another layer, the sequences employ the chilling orchestral version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” from Promising Young Woman’s pitch perfect soundtrack. And if you have been wise enough to check out that essential film, the Barbie doll scenes take on an even more devastating quality.

Back to Payton for a minute. Ultimately, his Jessica Fletcher is the ringmaster of this circus. Payton’s anarchic intelligence is like a wildfire across every scene. He is both eye of the hurricane and instigator. And his impish genius elevates any and all material he touches. I can‘t see him perform enough. Utter brilliance.

And do yourself a favor and stick through the credits. The cast vamps through Britney’s seminal hit “Baby One More Time.” You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Joe Bailey shimmy in a door frame.

The Ringwald’s press release follows, including dates and ticket information.

The Ringwald Theatre is pleased to announce the release of their latest show, Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime. Several Ringwald favorites have come together to (safely) film The Ringwald’s follow-up to their smash Yuletide release, Have Yourself a Misery Little Christmas. As with that show, Ringwald stalwarts Vince Kelley and Matthew Arrington return as writers.

In Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime, bestselling author, amateur sleuth, and trenchoat aficionado Jessica Fletcher is recording her latest podcast with her trusty sidekick and co-host, former Sherrif Amos Tupper, at her side. Today’s topic is the mysterious disappearance of music sensation Britney Spears. Where has the Pop Princess gone? Is it just a disappearance, or is something more sinister at play? As the investigation deepens, you will be asking, “Where’s Britney, bitch?”

Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime was developed prior to the release of the Framing Britney documentary. The Ringwald firmly stands in support of the pop icon, and shares this piece of art with love and affection.

Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime stars Richard Payton as Jessica Fletcher, Joe Bailey as Sherriff Amos Tupper, Suzan M. Jacokes as Andrew Lark, Joel Mitchell as Gene Smart, Nicole Pascaretta as Jamie Lynn Spears, Donny Riedel as Chris Crocker, Cory Shorter as Jeffrey Bean, and a super special secret guest star as Britney. Brandy Joe Plambeck directed with assistance from Dyan Bailey, Vince Kelley, and Katy Schoetzow. All safety precautions were observed during filming.

Tickets for Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime are available at www.theringwald.com at three different giving levels: $20, $50, and $100 and can be purchased Friday, April 16 through Sunday, May 2nd. The performance will be available to stream through May 10th. Once you purchase your ticket, an email will be sent to you which will include links for Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime and a virtual program. The video is hosted on Vimeo. You can watch on your phone/computer/tablet or, if you have the capability, you can stream the production to your smart TV.

The Ringwald opened the doors to their Ferndale location 13 years ago on May 11, 2007 with Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. Quickly, The Ringwald became a mainstay of Detroit’s theatre community. Past highlights include: Head Over Heels, Clue, Company, Merrily We Roll Along, The Rocky Horror Show, Heathers The Musical, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Mr. Burns: a post-electric play, Angels in America, Into the Woods, A Streetcar Named Desire, August: Osage County, Mercury Fur, The Book of Liz, and Evil Dead: The Musical.

Of freak flags and time warps: The Ringwald’s production of The Rocky Horror Show

Originally published by EncoreMichigan.com

[Jacokes – image source: The Ringwald]

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show is a bit of an artifact of its time, when queer culture and camp were avant garde, subversive, and downright frightening to most of America. Mike Pence notwithstanding, today we’ve seen such a mainstreaming of O’Brien’s core shock tactics (gender fluidity, B-movie tropes taken to their kinkiest extremes, gay panic, sophomoric raunch) that the show almost seems like a cuddly, family-friendly enterprise. I guess we can thank Andy Warhol, John Waters, Madonna, RuPaul, Logo TV, and Sacha Baron Cohen for that? When Drag Race – the likeliest heir to Rocky Horror’s legacy – is one of the most popular reality shows in America, you know we’ve turned a corner, even if the daily headlines, Fox News, and the comments section of any given Yahoo! news story lead us to believe otherwise. Hell, Fox themselves aired a (not very good) TV remake of Rocky Horror starring trans actress/activist Laverne Cox  … in response to Carrie Underwood playing Maria in NBC’s Sound of Music Live!?! Strange days indeed.

 

[Harris – image source: The Ringwald]

Ferndale, Michigan’s The Ringwald gets all of this. This milieu is their stock-in-trade. In fact, I can practically feel their collective eyeballs roll as they read that opening paragraph. Consequently, it is assured that Ringwald will do something unique with the material, while honoring the nostalgia factor that keeps Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials alike coming back year-after-year to this show and its classic film adaptation. The film, of course, starred Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, and Susan Sarandon in career-launching roles with a million toast-strewn midnight-movie showings.

 

[Wallace, Harris, Gagnon, Jacokes – image by author]

Directed with aplomb by Brandy Joe Plambeck (also brilliantly pulling out all the stops as exposition- spouting character Dr. Scott), The Ringwald’s Rock Horror Show does not disappoint. Tied loosely to the bicentennial anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (I wondered why everyone was doing these kinds of shows in the middle of summer – well, I’m seeing this one), The Ringwald’s production is a damn party. Yes, O’Brien’s book reads like a series of MadLibs pages strung together and makes about as much sense. However, the songs are sublime, and they are beautifully delivered here – kudos to Jeremy St. Martin’s music direction. The bonkers characters are a scream for talented actors like Ringwald’s to play. No bit of scenery remains unchewed; no audience member unaccosted. And it’s divine.

 

Defying convention, Plambeck transplants the show from a rambling gothic castle into a seedy biker bar, covered in punk rock graffiti and serving (non-alcoholic) drinks to audience and cast members – with smart, solid, economic scenic design from Stephen Carpenter. It’s a genius and immersive move. Squeaky clean (or are they?) Brad and Janet – representing the dreams and aspirations of middle-America to live boring, Instagram-friendly lives – stumble into said bar from the rain to use the pay phone after their car dies. While there, Brad and Janet meet a sordid cast of characters, all of whom are easy-to-judge but hard-to-avoid and totally at home in this setting. What Plambeck’s approach loses in outright spooky weirdness, it makes up for in sheer Muppet-y anarchic charm.

 

[Harris – image source: The Ringwald]

The bar is run by one Dr. Frank N. Furter who uses sex as a weapon AND a floor show. In a welcome bit of gender-blind casting, Suzan M. Jacokes takes on the role. Her acting style seems pneumatically engineered for an outsized, cartoonish part like this, and she doesn’t disappoint. While nuance may not be her forte, she has power, polish, volume, and command to spare. You can’t look away. I did miss some of the slithering insinuation we typically associate with the role, but Tim Curry’s gonzo performance will always cast a long shadow. Jacokes deserves plaudits for stomping it to the ground and making it uniquely her own. She’s like the caffeine-addled lovechild of Gloria Swanson and Rodney Dangerfield. She nails the anthemic “I’m Coming Home” number, with just the right hint of Liza/Judy-ish “little girl (boy?) lost” pathos.

 

[Wallace, Gagnon – image by author]

Matthew Wallace and Jordan Gagnon as Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, respectively, are an absolute delight, setting aside the faux innocence often brought to the roles and bringing a postmodern loopy assuredness that is fun to watch. Their love/hate dynamic in “Dammit Janet” and later “Super Heroes” is touching, thoughtful, and refreshingly believable, particularly in the midst of such a carnival-esque enterprise. Their characters benefit best from the updated locale. The hedonism of a late-night, dead-end watering hole on a stormy night (and with no vehicular escape) would indeed lead to some relationship topsy-turviness.

 

Brad and Janet arrive smack in the midst of Dr. Frank N. Furter’s experiments (in a bar?) to genetically engineer the perfect man and sexual plaything “Rocky.” Garett Michael Harris as Rocky turns in an eye-poppingly nimble performance that is more Iggy Pop than Tab Hunter. He’s terrific.

 

[Riedel, Bailey, Sulkey – image by author]

Janet takes up with Rocky; Frank takes up with Brad (and Janet). Brad and Janet’s former science professor Dr. Scott arrives in a wheelchair (and glittering pumps) to drop a whole sh*t-ton of backstory. Frank reveals that he and his fellow bar denizens are actually space aliens (!) who left their mission behind to get freaky with earthlings. Servants Riff Raff (effectively underplayed by Donny Riedel) and Magenta (Dyan Bailey – imbuing Magenta’s “over it” personality with her trademark Kathleen Turner-esque a$$-kickery) shoot up the bar with ray guns and demand a return to their home planet. Brad and Janet escape, sweetly acknowledging their love and their need for one another. Finis. Whew.

 

The ensemble work (Colleen Bielman, Ryan Kayla, Peggy Lee, Rebecca S. Mickle as “The Fantoms”) is exceptional, and the group numbers (“Time Warp,” “Floor Show”) really pop in The Ringwald’s tiny space. Efficient and effective choreography is provided by Molly Zaleski. Articulation in the group numbers sometimes gets muddled, but most of the audience knows these songs backwards and forwards so that can be forgiven. Austin Sulkey makes a fabulously exasperated/exasperating Columbia, whose love of delivery boy Eddie (a swaggering RJ Cach) ends in tragedy. Costuming on both Columbia and Eddie is great as they look like they just stepped off Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” video. Vince Kelley has done remarkable sartorial work here across the board, tying the updated setting’s aesthetic with the imagery we are accustomed to seeing in this show. Clever stuff.

[Jacokes – image source: The Ringwald]

 

Peggy Lee (no, not that Peggy Lee) deserves a special shout out for her work as “Fantom Flo.” She hauntingly delivers the show’s opening and closing numbers (“Science Fiction Double Feature” and its reprise). Her voice is exquisite – clear and crisp and evocative.

Lee also embraces “biker chic” better than anyone else in the cast, save ursine narrator David Schoen, who greets every audience member at the door, brings you to your seat, may pull you up on stage, and is completely “Hell’s Angel” intimidating in a totally adorable way.

 

This is a production put together by people who clearly love this show. The stage manager Holly Garverick shouts out all of the expected audience participation lines from the back of the house, encouraging the audience to interact with the proceedings, a la those midnight movie house showings throughout the 70s and 80s. One thought: let’s all retire yelling “slut” whenever Janet’s name is mentioned onstage. It may be tradition, but, in these “I’m With Her”/#MeToo days, it feels all kinds of misogynistic wrong.

 

[Jacokes – image source: The Ringwald]

Audience members are encouraged to purchase (for a nominal fee) a bag of props (playing cards, rubber gloves, party hats, bells, glow sticks, newspapers, kazoos, “Time Warp” dance instructions) to use at key moments during the show. Garverick may want to help with that a bit, as well, as the opening night audience didn’t seem terribly keen on using any of those goodies, save the newspapers.

 

On August 4, The Ringwald will perform the show in a special midnight performance, again to evoke those high school years when people convinced their parents it would be ok for them to go take in a showing at the witching hour.

 

[Riedel – image source: The Ringwald]

Why has Rocky Horror been such a success all these years? I often wonder. However, The Ringwald’s production reminds us that, while the show may not be Pulitzer Prize-winning material, it champions underdogs and misfits, encourages all of us to let our freak flags fly, and envisions a world where inclusion of any and all is the ideal … in one really weird package. That is why. And that message is more important than ever before. Vive la difference.

 

The Ringwald’s production of The Rocky Horror Show runs until August 6. For tickets, go to http://www.theringwald.com

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Lauren Crocker and Roy Boy

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.