Jake Oliver's new musical comedy Viva Los Bastarditos!, currently appearing in the New York International Fringe Festival, is an hilarious and surreal romp that takes place in the Mysterious Land of Western Massachusetts. The Pickles, a plucky rock band composed of lead singer and guitarist Sandy Grebzcak (Blake DeLong), bad boy bassist Bob White-Brown (Alex Morf), and goofy keytarist Snoozy Van der Val Heusen (Mark Emerson), are on a boat trip piloted by Captain MacGuffin (Andrew Schulman), when Sandy falls in love at first sight with Danny (Kathy Connolly), an aspiring songwriter. Back in Western Massachusetts, a con man named Dancin' Eddie Danson (Scoop Slone) teams up with Pop Johnson (Shulman again) to fabricate a claim to all the land, and begin levying taxes on owls and kicking people out of their homes, including Pickle Ranch; the Pickles decide to take action, and with capes and masks re-brand themselves as Los Bastarditos in order to fight the power, hiding subversive messages in the pimento cheese sold by Danny's mom (Dorothy Abrahams) Meanwhile, Pop Johnson's daughter Summer, who is to be forcibly married to Eddie Danson as part of the land deal, has fallen in love with Bob White-Brown, and he with her.
The play references a multitude of pop-culture sources, from Grease (the main romantic couple are named Danny and Sandy), Zorro, Scooby-Doo, President Taft, and many many more (including some wonderful puns on Danson's pseudonym- Don Knotts).
The music is mostly wonderfully catchy rock 'n' roll, which is certain to get toes tapping. Danson's early song "Mayk Sum Cukkees (with u)" is a very funny parody of "Pour Some Sugar On Me". Summer's ballad to her dead mother "They Don't Write Songs Like That Anymore" is a heartfelt highlight; and the Act II crowd numbers "New Day" and "Reservoir" gave me goosebumps.
The lyrics are quite clever, especially "This Song", in which Sandy crafts a perfect innocuous pop number while explaining to his bandmates all about how he doesn't want to write that kind of pap anymore, and "Stone Thrower's Song", which finds as many rhymes for "Stone" as it can.
The cast is spectacularly funny, perfectly selling the tongue-in-cheek style; with the comic standouts being Emerson, Schulman and Abrahams. All the singers are great, and Daniel Siford shows off an incredibly powerful voice on "Stone Thrower's Song" and "Reservoir".
While the script is very funny, the storytelling falters a bit in act II, where, instead of beginning to tie up loose ends of the plot, Oliver introduces more and more goofy irrelevancies, till most of the sense and through-line is lost. It begins to feel like an episode of Family Guy in which the last third is made entirely of manatee gags. There is an entire wonderful song about a plan which then never happens, and then there are some random deus ex machinas, and it's the theatrical equivalent of blueballs. And at times the script feels as though it was written to include a random song that Oliver had on his back burner, instead of letting the music come from The Situations. With a tighter structure and perhaps a trimmed second act without an intermission, the show could be a powerful piece of theatre; right now it's merely one of the funniest shows around.
Viva Los Bastarditos!
Part of the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival
The performance schedule is as follows: Saturday, August 14 at 5:30pm; Sunday, August 15 at 12 Noon; Saturday, August 21 at 9:45pm; Monday, August 23 at 4:30pm; Wednesday, August 25 at 10pm. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door the day of the performance. $10 tickets are available to senior citizens. All tickets are general admission and are available online at www.fringenyc.org or by calling 866-468-7619.