Put simply: “Party of 1” is lots of fun.
This four-person cabaret, which ran seven years to become the longest-running original musical in San Francisco, is a smart, sophisticated, sometimes deliciously naughty romp about the joys and perils of being single in America circa 1986, although the relationship themes are universal and timeless.
And this 30th anniversary production at Roxy’s Downtown, guest-directed by creator/composer Morris Bobrow, is a sparking little gem that will leave you on a widely grinning, toe-tapping high.
A lot of it is the script, of course, which plays with clever rhyme schemes like “mingled out, tingled out, singled out” or pairing “horny” with “Californy” or even “safely datable” with “inflatable.” Bobrow, a longtime San Francisco attorney, has a knack for a surprising, well-turned phrase. And in the music, he plays with a variety of styles, throwing in an unexpected tango beat here or an operatic trill there, and weaving in subtle tributes to Broadway shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Evita.”
But it all relies on the spunk and charm of the cast to make it work, and Roxy’s quartet is a well-matched, well-meshed ensemble in vocal harmonies and comic shtick.
Michael Karraker and Damian Padilla play all the male roles, while Rhonda LaRue and Jennie Hughes (who also choreographs) play all the women. Karraker (recently in Roxy’s “The Golden Girls”) is bold and brash, while Padilla (“Evil Dead: The Musical”) charms with a sort of puppy dog innocence. LaRue (Crown Uptown’s “Nuncrackers,” “Rocky Horror Show”), with a frizzy 1980s blonde style, is Madonna vampish, while Hughes (WSU’s “Into the Woods”), with a dark hairdo, is more Judy Garland girl-next-door.
Among showcase moments are Karraker and Padilla marching through “Three Cheers,” a rousing vaudeville tribute to America’s only single president, James Buchanan; Padilla and Hughes exploring outmoded cohabitation laws across the country in “Single and In Love in America”; Hughes hitting some Gilbert & Sullivan-worthy high notes as a single mom of three in “A Mom and a Dad”; and LaRue, Karraker and Padilla beautifully harmonizing as three loners at a bar unaware of each other who are desperate to show how “available” they are.
The 1986 period costumes by Christine Tasheff are eye-catchingly colorful as they resurrect vests and suspenders for the guys and wide belts, shoulder pads, harem pants and kicky skirts for the gals. The music is provided by Rich Bruhn on piano, Andy Bowers on bass and Dave Consiglio on drums, and it’s a satisfyingly perfect example of “less is more.”
There’s no real story; rather, it’s a series of outrageous skits and songs that explore everything from trying to hook up at singles mixers to lowering dating expectations to the etiquette of moving in together to the joys of “self-love” when all else fails. There are a couple of poignant ballads about “so much love” going unused or family heirlooms withheld until marriage to balance out the fun and deepen the impact.
Ultimately, the show is about being happy with – and unapologetic for – being single until you find Mr. or Ms. Right, as encapsulated in the bouncy title tune: “I’m a Party of 1 and I do what I want ’cause I want to. I don’t have to explain, I only answer to me. I pursue any road I get onto. I love to be – free.”
“Party of 1”
What: 30th anniversary production and Midwestern premiere of San Francisco’s longest-running original musical, directed by award-winning composer/lyricist Morris Bobrow
Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412½ E. Douglas (upstairs)
Additional performances: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through May 21
Tickets: $30, $27 and $20 with optional catered dinner available for $15 more. Call 316-265-4400.