In all honesty I wasn’t sure what to expect going through the doors to watch the Walkerville Collegiate version of the 1956 musical Li’l Abner. According to Wikipedia, it was based on a very popular newspaper comic strip which ran for 43 years from 1934 through 1977. I had never heard of it, never saw the comic and was totally unaware of the two movie versions (one musical and one not). Upon further investigation and heavy questioning, my parents knew exactly where I was going and the hilarity I was getting myself introduced to. And then they started to laugh at all the memories Li’l Abner gave them over the years.
Li’l Abner: The Musical might seem like an odd choice for a high school play, but as soon as the band started to orchestrate the score, it became evident that, although it looked like an easy show to pull off, it was certainly a challenging play. With a fairly fast-paced script, a large and capable ensemble cast, an early 1950’s musical score, quirky Flintstone-like costumes and dated Hillbilly dialog, director Jeff Marontate surprisingly picked a winner.
The story takes place on a “typical day” in Dogpatch, with Li’l Abner (Degrassi: Next Class star Dante Scott) and Daisy Mae (Karly Green) arguing about marriage, when things quickly spiral into pandemonium when Senator Jack S. Phogbound (Emil Palmer) arrives to inform the town that the government plans to turn Dogpatch into a nuclear testing ground.
To make matters worse, an evacuation of the townspeople is scheduled to take place a couple days before Sadie Hawkins Day, when the town’s young ladies race to catch their desired mates and bring them to Marryin’ Sam (Nick Palazzolo) to seal the deal. The only way to save the day is to find something “necessary” about the town.
Continuous antics and hilarity ensue as the town tries to find something necessary. Finally, Mammy (Julia Charette) brings forth her Yokumberry tonic and gives the town some hope, as well as Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae a chance to get hitched at the Sadie Hawkins Day race.
It’s a cute story, albeit a little dated, but with the cartoon staging and props, catchy songs like Jubilation T. Cornpone, The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands and the signature tune Namely You, it somehow works.
Green was stunning as Daisy Mae and captivated the audience with every move and every note. Her voice was strong and smooth and she looked fabulous in her polka dot shirts and cut-offs. Scott came off a little dry with his performance when he was beside Green, but that’s also how Peter Palmer played the role in the 1959 musical film version – Li’l Abner is all looks and little substance. One thing Scott did however, was elevate the entire cast with his voice when he was part of all the ensemble scenes.
Palazzolo was fun as Marryin’ Sam, Charette was adorable as Mammy and Seamus Tokol was hilarious as Available Jones. The rest of the cast looked and sounded great on stage and the large ensemble songs were choreographed and executed well. There were so many on stage at the end of the show, it was almost impossible to keep track.
Unlike many musicals staged today, the score was live and performed by a 24-piece band directed by Amanda Sands. The only flaw was that the PA system didn’t hold up to the power of the band at times and some of the dialog was lost to the music.
For some, this production was a walk down memory lane; for others like me, it was a lesson in 1940s comic strip history. Li’l Abner, although one of the most asinine scripts ever written into a musical, was a fun night out entrusted to the very capable hands of the Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts and Walkerville Collegiate.
In the program, several upcoming shows were announced, including a Fall 2017 production of The Laramie Project and a spring version of Hairspray in 2018.
Li’l Abner continues May 11, 12 and 13 at Walkerville Collegiate. Tickets are $15 each, $10 for seniors and students and $40 for a family of four.
Photos from Gail Robertson Twitter account.