The success of the likeable though somewhat undercooked comedy musical Angry Housewives is genuinely surprising. It opened in 1983 in Seattle where the show takes place and went on to become the longest running production in that city’s history. It also ran in New York for a short while, though it never quite made it to Broadway.
At one time, there was even development for a TV pilot, though that idea appears to have fizzled. Since then, outside of its Washington home turf, the show’s biggest success has been around the country in regional theatre. With all that in mind, your first thought after finally seeing the show might be a puzzled, “Really?”
Four middle-aged women gather together in order to work out how they can make some extra money. When Wendi (Kathi Osborne) suggests joining the emerging Seattle punk scene, putting on wigs and makeup and belting out a homegrown anthem to their kids ordering them to “Eat Your F*@#ing Cornflakes” in a local talent show, Bev (Rori Nogee), Carol (Monica Ban), and Jetta (Molly Lajoie) pick up their instruments and start rehearsing. Even though only one is technically a housewife, the four ladies adopt the catchy moniker Angry Housewives, and they’re off, as long as the men in their lives agree to get out of the way.
What strikes you from the beginning is the overall look of the show. Under Mace Archer’s stage direction, scenic designer Brad Cozby has developed a set reminiscent of something you might have seen representing a TV studio for an 80’s sitcom. On one side of the stage is the middle-class living room with everything facing directly at the audience; on the other is the cluttered, country kitchen, while above is a young boy’s bedroom. Under Daniel Davisson’s lighting design, all are brightly lit as if the set possessed a cheerful exuberance of its own, just like TV. Characters move from background to background as if performing to an imaginary studio camera and always leave the stage with an exit punch-line. All that’s missing is the canned-laughter. Well, that and a second half.
Angry Housewives is really built around the one what if… idea with everything we need to know about the ladies occurring and concluding in the first half. Once the talent contest at the local Seattle bar is over, so is the show. The second half has nowhere to go. There are character conflicts – Wendi no longer wants to be the drummer; Bev’s son Tim (Connor Morley) is mortified that his mom is in a band – but no story. It’s like watching a second series to a promising sitcom that can’t live up to the first. Had this been one of the show’s regional, out-of-town tryouts, you might have recommended some second half rework before attempting Broadway.
The Arizona Broadway Theatre production works best with its casting. All four ladies work well off each other with great support from the men. Brian Sweis makes a very funny Larry, a prissy up and coming lawyer who likes everything in its place, particularly his wife. “Why don’t you do normal things?” he asks of his wife, Jetta, when he finds out about the band, “Like gluing pictures on wood.” Greg Kalafatas is an amiable Wallace who appears to take pride in his Leonard Nimoy records and laminating the fins of fish he’s caught from his boat more than anything else; Sam Ramirez is terrific as the spiky-haired Lewd Fingers, and Spotlight Youth Theatre alumni Conner Morley holds his own with great confidence while performing alongside his more seasoned professional co-stars.
Despite the 80’s setting, Angry Housewives is not a nostalgic look at that colorful decade of big hair and dubious musical tastes. There are no references to things that happened back then and nothing to make you reflect on what you might have been doing around that time. It was written and premiered in the early eighties and was always meant to be a thing of its time; something that took place in present time, not a wistful indulgence of things passed.
Even the music, aside from the obvious punk rock send up, has no 80’s flavor. They’re show tunes, and while you won’t leave the theatre humming anything new, there are stand outs. Monica Ban’s Generic Woman makes the show spring to life just when it needs the boost while Molly Lajoie’s touching Not At Home is a musical highlight.
In the end, Angry Housewives carries an infectious silliness throughout culminating with an even sillier climax where all the men appear on stage in drag in an attempt to support the punk rock ladies. It doesn’t make any sense – it’s more Rocky Horror than Sex Pistols – but it will make you laugh.
Despite the show’s phenomenal Washington success that, for whatever reason, is still going strong, you won’t leave ABT remembering much about the musical, except for maybe one thing. The sight of Molly’s Jetta projecting with all the punk-rock aggression she can muster telling us what we can do with our box of cornflakes is something that’s going to remain in memory long after everything else about these desperate housewives is forgotten.
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