Arts » Performing Arts

BareBones does Debbie

And a teen ensemble does community service



To catch the original off-Broadway version of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical in 2003, I needed to make a pilgrimage far from any subway station in the West Village. We were within sight of the lordly Hudson when we reached the hallowed Jane Street Theatre, birthplace of Debbie and Hedwig. That's a long trek on a February evening. But you walk that extra mile if you're dedicated to corrupting your wife and daughter.

BareBones Theatre Group makes it easier for us to do Debbie, presenting the aspiring Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and her peppy chums in the heart of town at Duke Power Theatre in Spirit Square. Thanks to the expanded vision of director James Yost -- and the ribald choreography of Ashley Bradford -- I was pleased to find that Deb and her classmates are easier, too.

Tethered to a pre-recorded accompaniment mandated by composer Andrew Sherman, Yost frees his vixens from the voracious -- but strictly straight -- sexual appetites of the 1970s and '80s. So even in the scenes where the cheerleaders or their football-hero admirers are alone, hormones run riot, with sexual innuendoes at every turn and orifice. Why, even leaving Debbie alone in a roomful of candles runs the risk of waxy buildup.

That gives this Debbie an arc and a thrust I never saw at the Jane Street, handsome compensation for losing the live band and the seedy, roadhouse atmosphere of the original. Now there's a majestic progression of perversion that extends beyond flashing, fondling and sucking. Simulating this triumph of testosterone and estrogen, BareBones actually bares more -- and dares more -- than they did up in the Village.

But are our College Street pep girls the equal of Jane Street's for allure, pulchritude and sheer come-hither sluttishness? That's a legitimate aesthetic concern when approaching such sublime slime.

We'd be less than dutiful to our erudite readers if we didn't advise them to trim their pin-up expectations. Nor do Chris Timmons' set or Annamarie Gatto's costume designs aim for the same sleazy glitz of its off-Broadway model, as directed by Erica Schmidt, who adapted the famed 1978 porn flick.

Jamie Day, who starred up in New York in the title role, did a trilogy of Charlotte Rep roles here in 2001 -- in Psychopathia Sexualis, The Exact Center of the Universe, and Proposals -- so those who saw her can judge for themselves how well Heather Leanna measures up as Debbie Benton. Leanna sings more than adequately for Sherman's uninspired score, but I can't offer a comparison with Day, whose thighs are more deeply embedded in my memory.

As you may know, Debbie has won a spot with the Cowboys Cheerleaders, but her stuffy parents have balked at providing her with the airfare to Dallas. How can a young voluptuous beauty with no employment history earn enough money in so short a time? Long pause with finger on lips.

She and her cheerleader comrades form an enterprise called Teen Services, with a menu of offerings that quickly expands beyond the simple clerking, filing and housekeeping of maids and maidens. Money is the root of all rutting here, but there is tension among the pep girls. Deb's departure means her boyfriend Rick will be left behind, a delicacy that arch-rival Lisa is eager to snatch for herself.

Greta Marie Zandstra endows Lisa with a Bette Davis darkness -- above the neckline. Below there, anything goes. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kristen Jones as Donna and Rachel Roberts Kozlowski as Roberta don't have a calculating bone in their bodies. Together they comprise the vapid, dimwitted side of cheerleading culture, making Deb seem level-headed by comparison.

Heather's sister April Leanna makes her debut as Tammy, brainiest of the cheerleader clan. In the obligatory mousy eyeglass frames, she ponders the cost of her maidenhead to her political ambitions: "You can't be in government without an immaculate record." More ludicrous now than ever.

Yost's emphasis on bawdy, frankly phallic comedy brings the supporting male roles more to the fore. Among these, Chaz Pofahl unearths the brightest gem with his robotic, doll-like portrait of Rick. His portion of the pervs who bankroll Debbie is superb, but these exploits are equaled by Joshua Looney and Ryan Stamey.

Spanning the stage at Duke Power, two fleshy arches, representing spread legs, will greet you as you settle into your seat, bisected by a gaping Dallas Cowboys star. That's how in-your-face the rollicking smut will be for most of the 88 minutes this Debbie cavorts. Marking its 10th anniversary, Debbie is the first musical ever presented by BareBones, an exuberant celebration not-so-daintily laced with profanity, partial nudity, babes doing babes and one ginormous ejaculation.

Just what we need around here.

In its second year, Jen Band and her Performing for Others teen ensemble have surpassed themselves -- onstage at Neighborhood Theatre with their production of A Year With Frog and Toad and offstage with benefit proceeds to the Down Syndrome Association of Charlotte. Among others with special needs.

This pioneering initiative, driven by teens willing to plunge into theater and community service, is discreetly backed by pros on the musical theater side. So the product is definitely worth a look-see the next time around if you haven't climbed on board yet. Dylan Moore, as the pond-placid Frog, proved to be a talent worth keeping tabs on, and Joe Ehrman-Dupre made a comedy feast of self-conscious, careworn Toad. Both will surely pop up elsewhere around town in future years, as will Rachel Tate, who crossed her eyes to glory singing the lisping, obsequious role of Snail.

Maybe this simple, good-hearted musical will also get an encore now that so many influential theater folk have seen it.

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