With book and lyrics by Bill Robertson and Tom Sage and book and music by Cliff Wagner, PARADISE has come to Santa Monica – again. First produced at the Ruskin Group Theatre five years ago, PARADISE has returned to the same theatre with four new songs and lots of hysterical jibes at our current political situation. This is a not-to-miss musical, charming, funny, and very much up-to-date.
Paradise is a southern coal mining town whose population is rapidly approaching zero as everyone is leaving for greener pastures. Even Paradise’s preacher has jumped ship to move to far-off India to spread the word of God to an even poorer crowd than the denizens of Paradise. Then along comes the Reverend John Cyrus Mountain (Jon Root), the new and very charismatic preacher, who promises to turn the failing town into a mecca for the well-healed by building the area’s first mega-church. How is he going to accomplish this? It seems that Preacher Mountain has cast a deal with a Hollywood producer to film a television reality show from – you guessed it – Paradise. A great idea – but is it?
What if an idea is too good to be true? Preacher Mountain’s plans are met with some resistance from the few remaining citizens of Paradise – especially Louanne Knight (Kelsey Joyce), the daughter of the most respected couple in town – sadly, both dead when the show opens – and the proprietor of the town’s country store. Mayor Gayheart (Chip Bolcik) is ready and willing to go along with the Reverend – while dragging his reluctant adult son Tater Gayheart (Randy Taylor) along. The Mayor has big plans for his son – but, unfortunately, those plans of Broadway fame and fortune don’t resonate with his progeny.
Add to this questions from Cinderella Tiara Applebaum (Paige Segal) and Ezra Johnson (Dave Florek) – and the reality TV plan may not fly. But don’t discount the Reverend too quickly – or his trusted sexy assistant Chastity Jones (Nina Brissey), rescued from the pole in a Las Vegas establishment. When Peter Martinez (Jamie Daniels), the Hollywood producer’s son, enters Paradise to make the show happen, it seems to be easy sailing from then on. But maybe not.
PARADISE is chock full of tunes which range from bluegrass to rock and gospel – and everything in between. Songs like “For Profit Prophet,” “The American Way,” and “Sinner and Saint” explode from the band’s instruments. Led by Jim Doyle (musical director and drums) and his merry crew (John Groover McDuffie – guitar and banjo, Gregory Boaz – bass, and Devitt Feeley – guitar and mandolin), the live band keeps the melodies hopping and everyone’s toe tapping.
Stephanie K. Schwartz’s scenic design is mind-blowing; she captures the small town vibe perfectly (helped along by set builders William Lidderdale and Mike Stagg). Edward’s Salas’s lighting, Chip Bolcik’s sound, and Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes add to the merriment. The cast is spot on – directed with skill by veteran Michael Myers. There’s never a dull moment in Paradise. Music lovers – this is a show made for you. Anyone with some roots in the South will also love the production. And let’s not forget about any political pundits out there. You’ll laugh your head off!
PARADISE runs through 9/23/18 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $30 to $35 (group discounts of 6 or more). For information and reservations, call 310-397-3244 or go online.