If you ever watched the "Gong Show" years ago on television, you have a reasonable idea what Great Falls Players' production of "Starting Here, Starting Now" is like.
To the uninitiated, the "Gong Show" was a conglomeration of the nontalented who, for one brief, tarnished moment, got control of the microphone and let loose. Not surprisingly, there were oodles of "ouch" moments, the kind where you cringe in embarrassment for the poor schlep on stage. The rewards for the viewer were minimal.
The rewards from this production are minimal, too. At the base, this 1977 off-Broadway musical revue, written by Richard Maltby and David Shire, is mundane. The songs -- sad, upbeat, silly -- are strung together with the common theme of love and its pain and joys. Love was never so dull or cliched. The audience gets dated, ridiculous lyrics, such as: "There's a great big nuptial waiting for me . . . . What a matrimonial romp it's going to be." Though it's hard to imagine, the words to describe the ain't-love-grand-but-painful topic get dumber. I still am amazed how many songwriters can pen this greeting-card drivel, especially on a subject so full of deep and interesting emotions.
The weaknesses in the plot are further compounded by this production, directed by Virginia M. Rita. While there are a few bright numbers in the collection of songs, most are sappily sung and poorly choreographed and acted. The ensemble of five -- three women and two men -- comes out in pairs and trios and sometimes alone. No matter the combination, they sing on and off tune, move stiffly as if they are watching their feet, and create zero-zip-nada emotion. A particularly bad number was "Barbara," a pseudo-smoky, longing song, where the performer delivers what has to be a better comic impression of a smarmy lounge lizard than the one perfected by Bill Murray in the old days of "Saturday Night Live." But with his faraway, teary eyes and Sinatraesque manner, this guy is serious. This is not a good sign.
Neither is the set, a bare black and white backdrop with a silver-draped entrance, nor the black and white costumes. They are meant to be simple, so you may concentrate on the play. Big mistake. The overwrought lighting bounces off the tinfoil throughout the show and blinds the audience. The costumes are only dreary.
"Starting Here, Starting Now" is saved now and then by the welcome presence of Connie Strait, the only member of the company with personality. Her pixieish nature allows her to deliver a wickedly funny "Crossword Puzzle," about a woman who gets dumped by her man because of her obsession with words ("Perhaps he wanted to get the long ones himself," she ponders). And though slightly overboard, her delivery of a kooky beauty counter saleswoman in "I'm Going to Make You Beautiful" is real and loony -- just about the right combination for life.
These moments are few and so far between that you will likely be unable to hang on (I could not and left early). Theater should always give you something to take away, but this one takes away from you. Just for that, give it the gong. The play continues tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Great Falls Grange Hall at 9818 Georgetown Pike in Great Falls.