Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Nina Kaye

Play at a Glance: A mash-up of numerous beach party films from the 1960s, Tiki Bikini Beach Party is a vitamin-D infused flashback that's a perfect remedy for the winter blahs. The musical is a self-referential recreation of 1960s beach party flicks, with pop culture references to Scooby Doo, Gilligan's Island and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer to bring it up to date. Jeanette Funicello, her steady, Freddy, and the gang all want to throw a beach party to mark the end of the summer. Unfortunately, the local leather-clad bully, The Big Tuna, is hogging the best part of the beach. The only solution: a surfboard contest with lots of hotdogging, shimmying, hula dancing, grass skirts... and of course bikinis!

First Impressions: Tiki Bikini Beach Party, in a remount at the Next Stage Festival, circumvents the Fringe-imposed lighting and set restrictions by relying on inventive costumes, live music, exposition, strong visual choreography and a sense of humour. The musical numbers were well-rehearsed and executed, if not particularly original, consisting mostly of covers such as "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini". The costuming was excellent, as it was visually pleasing and established the beach setting. The five-piece band was talented, never missing a beat. The actors were great, they cheerfully hammed up their roles and were always fully present onstage.

The Highlights: When technical complications led to a too-early black-out, The Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) and his sidekick, Mini Minnow (Stephen Dickson) saved the day with a quick witted improvisation in which they shared a comic confession about their fear of the dark.

The Nitpicks: Unfortunately, the gentle parody and good humour of Tiki Bikini wasn't enough to transcend the misogyny, stereotyping, and bizarre repressive/exploitative sexuality of the 1960s source material. Additionally, while intentionally bad jokes and puns accurately reflect the Archie comics humour found in the Beach Party movies, it does quickly grow stale. Still, running for 60 minutes, the show cut itself off before it became tiresome.

Audience reaction: The audience, ranging from children to seniors, all seemed to love the show, laughing and applauding after each dance number. The show's sunshine seemed a vacation from the cold winter weather.

Reviewers reaction: 4/5

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.

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