Every theater aficionado loves a couple of shows that are obscure and not well known to the public. Director, Rick Simas, has revived a 1960’s ensemble musical at the North Coast Repertory Theatre that I’m fairly confident only those intimately involved in the community have heard of, Man With a Load of Mischief.
Based on a 1925 Broadway comedy, the tale takes place in an English wayside inn during the 1810s. The establishment is run by a poor innkeeper (Ron Choularton) and his wife (Annie Hinton). The couple hope that their lodge, which is having a dry spell, will become more popular.
Their prayers are answered when four individuals, The Lord (Randall Dodge), his servant (Robert Yacko), The Lady (Jacquelyn Ritz) and her maid (Tatiana Mac) encounter a problem with their journey, take a detour, and have to stay at the inn. It is soon revealed that the guests have many hidden agendas up their sleeves.
The best aspect of Man With a Load of Mischief is the talented likeable cast and the director. Yacko as the servant, a.k.a The Man, plays his role with dignity and grace. Yacko does not sing for quite some time, but his solos are full of depth and sometimes melancholy emotions. Yacko allows the audience to root for The Man to be treated by others with respect, instead of as a second class citizen.
Ritz portrays The Lady with quick comic timing and has sizzling chemistry with Yacko. All of her songs are a pleasure to hear, due to her strong operatic power.
As the cunning and evil Lord, Dodge displays hilarious menace similar to Harvey Korman’s legendary performance as Hedley Lamarr in “Blazing Saddles.” Just like Korman, Dodge makes a heartless, arrogant, pompous, jerk hysterically goofy and absurd.
Mac started out a bit too timid and mousy in some of her early scenes, but became more confident and impressive as the night went on. Her first big number, “Once You’ve Had a Little Taste” is irresistibly cheery and gets to show off her skills as an adorable physical comedian.
Choularton and Hinton are delightfully quirky as The Inkeeper and his wife. While their songs are not vocally demanding, they make a duet, “Any Other Way,” a touching and poignant tribute to a long, healthy, and relatively happy, marriage.
Unfortunately, Man With a Load of Mischief has flaws, mostly because of Ben Tarver’s book. The pacing to Act I is slow, with plenty of exposition and little development. Not a whole lot seems to happen, until an entertaining twist before intermission.
There are far too many reprises, which feel gratuitous as opposed to natural, such as in Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and South Pacific. The blame for this goes equally to music and lyricist, John Clifton, as well as Tarver.
The work also occasionally hammers attendees over the head with themes that are spelled out, as opposed to being subtle. While Man With a Load of Mischief does deal with some serious issues, the messages lack the sophisticated touch contained in some of the better classics.
Despite the problems, there is a lot to appreciate about this production. Act II is a lot more enjoyable with bigger laughs and several satisfying surprises.
Simas’s style is retro and at times Man With a Load of Mischief has the vibe of a flick from the 1940’s and 50’s as opposed to a live experience. He directs in a very farcical way with plenty of slapstick and visual gags.
Though the book is far from perfect, Man With a Load of Mischief is ultimately a fun upbeat lark with clever music and crowd-pleasing moments. Hopefully, in the future, the North Coast Rep finds and produces interpretations of intelligent under the radar stories.