By Jenny Neyman
Technically, there are four in the cast of “Suds.” Watching the comic “soap opera,” though — as in, a musical set in a Laundromat — feels far more robust than the actual actor count would indicate.
The music, alone, is practically its own character — a near-constant string of hits from the 1960s — “Please Mr. Postman,” “Loco-Motion,” “Respect,” “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Chapel of Love,” “Tell Him” and many more.
“What’s in the show? It’s more like, ‘What songs are not in this show?’” said Stefanie Bouchard, music director for “Suds,” which the Kenai Performers will present as a dinner theater June 21, 22, 28 and 29 at the Kenai Merit Inn.
“This is such a feel-good music show. If the audience wants to sing along, that’s great. I think this is the sort of play where you’re going to feel very comfortable laughing out loud or singing along because it’s so fun. The actors are taking it to that ridiculous place where it really works. The music has to be over the top to take it there. Go big or go home — you can’t do it halfway.”
One actor, in particular, puts in a full performance, and then some. Spencer McAuliffe plays every male character in the show, plus one that’s not so manly — letter carrier, washing-machine repairman, Johnny Angel, Milt Dudman, Mr. Right and a grandma, Mrs. Halo — necessitating some quick costume changes and equally fast personality shifts.
“Spencer’s got to be schizophrenic from this show, and he has about a million costume changes — Mr. Postman (with shin-high socks and shorts); at one point he’s got a tux on under his grandma Halo robe (complete with feminine, uh, enhancements) and the washer repairman. And there may be some plumber’s crack out there. I can’t say for sure, but there’s a rumor,” Bouchard said.
McAuliffe was recently the lead, Emile De Becque, in Kenai Performers’ winter musical, “South Pacific,” and has studied opera among his many other vocal credits.
“I wondered how that was going to mesh for him, Spencer being very classical, musically. But as technical a singer as Spencer is, he’s willing to be silly and funny. He is not afraid to be ridiculous with this. And he’s got so much range, it’s amazing.”
Clearly, silly isn’t much of a stretch, as he offers his own suggestions for how to make his characters even more over the top.
“Could I be running away from them, and then be running from her?” he asked in a recent rehearsal, while crab-scuttling across the stage away from the advancing feet of two of the actresses, into the menacing feet of another — basically offering to be a human soccer ball. “I gotta stand up here so she can stomp on my foot.”
Even inanimate objects speak for themselves in the show. The set, props, costumes, accessories and hairdos are as period perfect to the ’60s as an episode of “Bewitched.” An Ajax soap box, a vintage Coke cooler, an old radio and coin-op sliders for the washers and dryers, and layers of Crinoline peeking out from the laundry basket make for a fun backdrop to the poufy skirts and even more poufy hair.
“The costumes are great. It’s like, ‘Why don’t people wear those anymore?’” Bouchard said.
And that ushers in the unofficial fifth star of the show, striking such a presence that it has warranted its own name — the wig on Selia Butler, who plays bold, brash and brassy Marge.
It’s a feat of hair engineering — a good foot tall and nearly that around in a shade of auburn with a tint of purple. It came out of the box from the manufacturer already teased to high unholy heaven.
“Isn’t that wig the best? It’s a presence. It came styled, and the smell of Aqua Net wafted out of the box,” Bouchard said. “I thought when I was younger if I had a daughter I’d name her Chartreuse — I didn’t know that’d be giving birth to a drag queen. But I saw that wig and thought, ‘Now that is Chartreuse.’ We decided that’s what the name of the wig would be.”
Butler, under her monumental mane, is Marge, one of two guardian angels sent to straighten out Cindy, the laundress, played by Alyeska Krull, who has gotten lost on her path to love. Elan Krull is Dee Dee, the enthusiastic,
optimistically romantic angel, in a demure sweater, dress and sensible shoes. While Marge is her flashy, tough-talking, you-go-girl counterpart in shiny heels, a sequined top and enough gaudy “gold” jewelry to dazzle a leprechaun.
“I feel like Mr. T,” Butler said, who in real life has a temperament and wardrobe antithetical to her character. “I’m so glad I can’t see myself.”
“Oh Mylanta, you are a vision. You don’t look like Mr. T at all. I can’t not look at you,” Bouchard said. “You’re a magnet for my eyes.”
“I can’t see over your hair,” said Elan Krull, despite her usually head-and-shoulders-above height.
“I can’t see through my hair,” Butler said, looking for a window of unobstructed vision through a tassel of teased bangs and fake eyelashes.
Alyeska Krull plays Cindy, crushed from a breakup with her three-year pen-pal boyfriend. Cindy is as squeaky-cleanly naïve in guys as are the clothes she fluff ’n’ folds at the Laundromat. So sure that her heartbreak will never cease, she decides to fold, herself, and agitate herself to death. In the proper attire, of course.
“Where are my suicide pants?” Alyeska asked at rehearsal, preparing for the fateful scene when her guardian angels arrive to help iron out this wrinkle in her love life.
Just as the musical numbers come one after another, so do the expressions of the characters — Marge’s head-bobbing finger waves, Dee Dee’s enthusiastic grins and squeaks of excitement, and Cindy’s wails of heartbreak vacillating to starry googley-eyes of love-struck hope.
It makes for a fast pace, requiring careful choreography to enhance the songs, yet not take away from the dialogue, expression or singing. Kacia Dimick has taken on that task. Dimick grew up in Soldotna, dancing as part of the Aurora Company at Vergine’s Dance Studio. After graduating with a degree in dance performance from Oklahoma City University, she most recently danced professionally at Universal Studios Florida and Busch Gardens Tampa.
Together with director Paul Morin, Dimick and Bouchard have the task of setting this “Suds” cycle spinning.
“Kacia has taken it to a whole other level. She’s really aware of the fact that there’s so much music in it they really don’t stop singing. So when they dance they still have to act and sing. And she has embraced this set of movable washing machines and clothesbasket. It’s been so much beyond what we’ve expected,” Bouchard said.
“And Paul has this vision for all the characters. He gets so into it. He’ll get onstage and plays everybody’s character better than them,” she said.
As for the actors, “Four phenomenal voices,” Bouchard said.
Alyeska and Elan Krull and Butler came up through Kenai Performers’ kids’ summer camps and graduated to the winter musicals and other productions. McAuliffe also has been a regular sight onstage locally (and hard to miss, given his height and vocal range).
“It’s so fun. We’re lucky, lucky, lucky. They make the job so easy,” Bouchard said.
Even luckier will be the audience, she said, since they get to do something she no longer can — experience “Suds” for the first time.
“I wish I could be part of the audience that had never seen it before and were seeing it for the first time, because it’s so outstanding,” she said. Much as she enjoys singing — and, at time, chair dancing, along — Bouchard said the plot turns, gags, belted-out songs and choreography will be even better when it’s a surprise.
“It is so fun and there’s so much going on — never a dull moment and not a boring second in this show,” Bouchard said. “It goes to that ridiculous level of an old soap opera, and they take it to that place. They just make it so fun to watch.”
Tickets for “Suds” are $40, on sale now at Curtain Call Consignment on First Avenue in Kenai, Charlotte’s in Kenai, Coffee Roasters in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and River City Books in Soldotna. Dinner, provided by Kenai Catering, starts at 7 p.m. with the show following, at the Kenai Merit Inn, June 21, 22, 28 and 29.