A man in a bowler hat with a penchant for lying sings his way through a trip to the underworld. No, this isn’t some Faustian fable, but a modern-day epic romp about the multi-layered journey of life, as experienced by a vagabond whose biggest conundrum involves his shiny new shoes and the puzzling question of why they end up on his feet one random day. This is Beau Fib, a world premiere musical mounted by The Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre. It’s pretty much a wonderfully fresh hit.
Live music pipes into the small theatre before the curtain rises, and the high quality of musicianship sets the stage for a night of intelligent and entertaining theatre. Musical director Scott Passarella doubles as an on-stage piano player, tackling both roles with an easy, appealing sense of style. The music moves the plot along precisely as it should, never distracting or detracting from the action. Andy Hentz, on accordion and banjo, and composer John Graney likewise deserve kudos for the musical propelling of the plot.
On the acting front, Christopher Young plays the titular role with a grand sense of humor and a clear respect for the quirky, unreliable character. On opening night, Young had a smattering of off key musical moments and a few fumbled lines, but I suspect he’s cleared up those rather rusty moments – he’s obviously a talent and his commitment to the text-heavy lead role is apparent. A sharp standout on the singing, dancing and acting fronts is Cat Davis, as the conniving Honey, a woman who is introduced as a good-as-gold girlfriend, but later morphs into a no-holds-barred sex kitten. Davis brings the perfect combination of brassy comedy and understated pathos to the role, shaking her moneymaker with unabashed sexuality, while signaling an inner sadness that doesn’t overwhelm the bawdy fun of her mostly comic role.
As the outlandish journey of Beau Fib moves forward, our hero meets increasingly whacky souls. One of them is Father Christmas (Chris Sheets), a priest with a penchant for whiskey. Sheets consistently comes up with hilarious reads on the boozy holy man’s lines, keeping the laugh factor high. Then there’s St. Clowny (Christopher Karbo), a maniacal clown in full face makeup and floppy shoes, who sends our hero to Satan’s depths. It’s not until the last scene that this darkly humorous jaunt makes sense, and we’re touched when we find out why so much psychedelic meandering has ensued.
Andy Goldblatt directs with a sure hand, and Cristina Bercovitz’s puppets create a lovely layer of meaning.Through November 21 at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3112 Second St., Santa Monica. Visit www.latensemble.com.