Bukowsical, the musical spoof that ran for four months at 11 p.m. at the Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood, California, is returning in an expanded 70-minute version, in prime time. Co-written by Gary Stockdale (the music director for Penn & Teller and composer for the recent hit film,
The Aristocrats) and Spencer Green (who has written for Mad TV and
The Fairly Oddparents), the show does not claim to be a reverent tribute to Charles Bukowski, famed poet, author and world-class drunk. In fact, it would seem to be the opposite of "reverent."
"It's a paean to what was essentially Bukowski's writing," says Stockdale, "tinged with the accurate stench of the subject matter of his life's work." The show itself takes the form of a backer's audition of a fictional theater troupe. "It's a very ill conceived musical on the life of Charles Bukowski, done by people who think that musical theater can save the world," Stockdale says. Spencer adds, "The reality is that they probably haven't read anything by Bukowski, but maybe they saw some part of the Mickey Rourke movie,
Barfly." There's a bouncy opening number about falling down dead-drunk, vomiting and ass-fucking. One lyric goes, "What's the feeling you get when you're down on your luck, and you're too drunk to fuck?" Stockdale, who also wrote the music and has a musical theater background, comments, "We wanted to do very well-constructed musical numbers -- to tell a very horrid story." Spencer, referring to the lively cast of nine, adds, "People are supposed to be skilled at what they do on stage, it's just that it's all at the service to an idea that shouldn't have come into anyone's head in the first place." Jesse Marion directs.
Times CalendarLive Reader Review
Cleverly directed and choreographed, with a committed and talented cast, it is totally silly, twisted fun. The songs by Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale are funny and inspired, and the song about Los Angeles is worth the price of admission alone. It's just not often you get to go to the theater and hear lyrical songs about art and cirrhosis of the liver. I mean, what else are you going to do tonight?
of the Late-Night Edition
West (Critic's Pick!)
How rare the kept promise in this city of shattered hopes, but when the program to this little gem promises "delusion, heartbreak, necrophilia, drunkenness, cirrhosis of the liver, and some catchy tunes," it is as good as its word and then some. Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale, who are responsible for the book and lyrics, Stockdale flying solo on the tunes, have crafted a wicked little trifle that is as much about the conventions of musical theatre as it is about a dissipated writer. The opening number is eminently hummable and neatly establishes the universe of
Bukowsical!, the place one finds oneself when "you're down on your luck and you're too drunk to…" well, you get the idea. The production skims along, each number wrapping appalling bad taste in a perky, upbeat melody that makes dipsomania a lighthearted romp.
The performers achieve the style so many late-night shows strive for but generally miss. It's imperfect to exactly the right degree. Dean Cameron's tight, funny direction and choreography are executed artlessly but never slipshod. And it's short. At just under an hour, the joke doesn't have time to stale, and the able players keep the production aloft almost the entire time. The ending is the one thing that doesn't seem to work; in an effort to send up the convention of the requisite happy finish, the writers put Bukowski (nicely played as a lumpish man-child by David Lawrence) through AA. It's funny, particularly because Cameron has the entire chorus appear with cigarettes and coffee, but it's not up to what has come before. Fortunately a reprise of the opening number sends the audience out humming.
Steven Memel serves as the liaison between the audience and the world of
Bukowsical! and has an offhand charm that serves the piece well. Christina Byron, Kathi Copeland, Fleur Phillips, Matthew Garland, Ian R. Gould, and Michael Lanahan are the smart and capable cast who don't miss a laugh and will go as low as they have to go to get one. It's terrific fun, and so wrong in all the right ways.
'Bukowsical!' is seeking support
In the hilarious opening number of "Bukowsical!" running at Sacred Fools, we are informed, "there's a little Bukowski in all of you too." That sounds about right. Actor Steven Memel, playing, why, Steven Memel, welcomes us to "the Sacred Angel Fist Circle of Note Gang Theatre Company's final backer's audition," and take-no-prisoners pandemonium ensues.
That is the intention. Although Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale's witty late-night goof certainly riffs on the scabrous poet, what they, director-choreographer Dean Cameron and the players really skewer are fringe festival musicals and, by default, the Broadway conventions that various outstanding entries in the field have fruitfully satirized.
Thus, Buk (David Lawrence) finds himself the bemused center of a series of delirious numbers that follow key scenes of Bukowskiana in winking, Busby Berkeley-on-acid fashion. Highlights include "Chaser of My Heart," a duet between our hero and his True Love (Fleur Phillips), the randy "Road Song" and a "Hollywood Trio" for Barbet Schroeder (Michael Lanahan), Sean Penn (Ian R. Gould) and Mickey Rourke (Matthew Garland). The cast is completed by Kathi Copeland and Christina Byron, with Byron's Sweet Lady Booze get-up one of costume designer Ruth Silveira's brightest ideas.
Everyone's gonzo abandon and the eclectic bounce of Stockdale's music and his and Green's lyrics almost disguise that "Bukowsical!" is not yet a full-fledged show. To achieve the rank of such predecessors as "Urinetown" and "Blake ... da Musical!" the dualistic concept of backer's audition against improbable subject, and the score's response to same, needs fleshing out. Yet it's still an uproarious romp.
-- David C.
Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale’s musical is a comedic exploration into the life of the late poet, short-story writer and cultural gadfly Charles
Bukowski. In this play within a play, the audience receives a behind-the-scenes look as an “idealistic theater company mounts a backers’ audition for an improbable show.” Steven Memel hosts as we follow Bukowski (the
bald-pated, corpulent David Lawrence) from his boyhood in Andernach, Germany, along his rise to literary prominence in America by way of 10 musical numbers. Not surprisingly, Green and Stockdale’s lyrics are saturated with bawdy sexuality, disgusting imagery and gutter language, all the things that Chuck was admired for. Some of it is riotously funny, such as “School Song,” where we learn of Bukowski’s tormented childhood and his abuse at the hands of his schoolmates, teacher and father, and “Take Me,” where sweet lady booze (Chrissie Byron) steps in and seduces him. Dean Cameron capably directs a spirited cast of seven, although at times the show is clearly straining for laughs.
Haven't you ever wondered what could be learned from the inspirational story of Charles Bukowski's life - alcoholic, depressive, and suicidal poet?
Steven Memel, the auteur/directeur/chanteur/Phantom Impersonateur, did, and he has given the world BUKOWSICAL!, now extended at the Sacred Angel Fist Circle Of Note Gang Theater through July 21.
Yes, it's a musical about Charles Bukowski, and what better way to celebrate SAFCNG's fifth year bringing love, joy, and AA-happy endings to Los Angeles audiences?
This latest of Memel's eponymous Experiences is still in the form of a fifty-minute backer audition in a late-night slot, Fridays only at 11 pm. If your performance is interrupted by a visit from the Bukowski estate trying to shut down the show, please boo them loudly. Nothing, especially not copyright law, can stand between the world and the power of musical theater.
As the SAFCNG website says, and signs in the lobby demand, "Bring your checkbook and your producer friends. You'll be sure to want a piece of this Broadway Bound show! We have very little time to raise a lot of money."
If you've read this far, you know there is another force behind the show besides madman Steven Memel, but we really appreciate how far BUKOWSICAL! goes to maintain the illusion - even to the extent of a double-sided fake program, one with bios full of "Memel Experiences" such as "Faster Pussycat, Sing! Sing!," "No, No, Godot!" and "Sirhan Sirhan! Sirhan Sirhan!" One of our friends spent an entire day re-reading the fake program.
BUKOWSICAL! was written by Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale, with music by Stockdale and directed by Dean Cameron (yes, of Spam Scam Scam fame). It's just under an hour of black-clad musical theater geeks doing humorous choreography and singing cheery songs about puking up your booze, under the iron hand of Memel as Memel.
David Lawrence shines among a goofy cast as Bukowski, anchoring their mayhem with a stolid, sad-eyed depression. His confusion and sadness every time one musical number ends (such as "You're Stupid, Gross, and Ugly, And We Hate You") is so cute. We just wanted to give him a hug. He seems to have been entirely hypnotized by the madness of Memel, and to have gone so far into Bukowski that there's no way out - even looking kind of sad at the curtain call. He's living Charles Bukowski's real nightmare, of waking up surrounded by musical theater performers.
We got the chance to speak with Cameron after the show, and he told us that there's a chance Sacred Fools will be expanding BUKOWSICAL! to move into an 8 pm mainstage slot. There is something nice about a 50-minute show, fitting into our television-addled eyeballs perfectly, and we'd need another plotline - hopefully involving the maniacal Kathi Copeland - to keep going with
BUKOWSICAL! fulfills all the requirements of a riotous late-night, plus providing
opportunities for literary posers to dabble in 99-seat theater. By the looks of the ink-stained, haggard, corduroy-jacketed, hollow-eyed people trickling out of BUKOWSICAL!, Sacred Fools has done it again - brought the snobs to their feet.
The new musical at Sacred Fools Theater, "Bukowsical!" serves as the antithesis of last year's Cal Rep show "Love, Bukowski." Whereas the latter play was a tribute to the beauty and diversity of Charles Bukowski's poetry, Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale's tuner deflates Bukowski's legend and hipster image with a sober vengeance...
The funny thing is that the subject of these productions might well have appreciated them both, since a scurrilous sense of humor and humility were prevalent in his work.
The conceit of the musical is that Steven Memel (Steven Memel) has written it and is showing it off under the auspices of the Sacred Angel Fist Circle of Note Gang Theater Company to gain financial backers. It's a loosely biographical depiction of the life of Bukowski (David Lawrence), from the childhood in which other kids tormented him to his young years on the "derelict trail," where he encounters his muse, Sweet Lady Booze (Christina Byron). He eventually winds up in L.A., where he meets his True Love (Fleur Phillips). Eventually his poems are published to acclaim, and Hollywood comes calling in the form of director Barbet Schroeder (Michael Lanahan). Will our hero sell out or stay true to his drunken calling?
Green and Stockdale have fun tweaking pretentious musicals in the concisely titled "Opening Number," with such winning refrains as "When you're down on your luck and too drunk to fuck -- Bukowsical!" The romantic duet "Chaser of My Heart" contains this non-Hallmark sentiment: "If your nose should bleed nonstop, I'll be your mop."
Memel has the smarmy self-congratulating artiste bit down... Phillips attacks all her roles gamely and displays a fine madness as the dissipated True Love. Byron and Lanahan lend expert comedic
Ruth Silveira's costume design adds a witty flair to the proceedings, from Sweet Lady Booze's Jack Daniels bottle outfit to Memel's "Phantom of the Opera" half-mask and cape. Director Cameron contributes droll details as well, from the road sign reading "Now Leaving Innocence" to the fact that all the participants in the 12-step program Bukowski joins have matching cigarettes and cups of coffee.
Only Fools would try to make a musical about Charles Bukowski, what with his penchant for profanity and for glorifying the lowest of the earth . . . only Fools, and Steven Memel would try.
The revised and expanded version of a play within a play hits the boards at The Sacred Fools, with songs that make your feet bounce, dialog that keeps you in stitches and song lyrics so foul your ears turn red even as you lean forward hoping for more.
It's a thin premise. Steven Memel, creator of this farce, introduces the Players explaining his dream is to make a huge production about the life of Charles Bukowski and tells us we are witnessing a prequel. Along the way he keeps reminding the audience that it's going to take a lot of money to do this, and hopes everyone is generous. It's a running gag that could run thin, but Memel is wise enough to know when enough is enough. So even with a light story line, the production is so well thought out that one can't help but get caught up in the madness and tom-foolery.
Credit some excellent singing by the actors and imaginative direction and choreography by Jessie Marion for making this an A Plus effort. Add the great musical score by Gary Stockdale and Spencer Green, and you end up with a show that has the audience laughing from start to finish.
The characters are great. Besides Gary Shapiro, who is the heart beat of the show as Bukowski, Fleur Phillips has a chance to show off her great voice as Buke's girl (or maybe she's a compilation of all the women in his life).
Christina Byron, excellent in all her characters is particularly terrific as Sweet Lady Booze, a life size bottle of whiskey that first introduces Buke to his first addiction.
Matthew Garland brings a devastating lampoon of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, and for those not old enough to know the name, suffice it to say that Bishop Sheen's TV show in the '50's had bigger ratings than any bunch of housewives ever could hope for, desperate or not. And all the Bishop did was talk.
Ian Ross Gould has multiple roles, but is excellent as Sean Penn trying to get the role of Bukowski in one of several films about him. Kathi Copeland also works wonders with her many roles, including a version of a teacher from hell that may have influenced the young Bukowski into his rebellious ways. Then there's Michael Lanahan, a perennial Fool who always delivers nothing less than a solid performance and in this show goes even beyond, in his roles as Barbet Schroeder, the film maker who made "Barfly", loosely based on Bukowski's life, and especially William Faulkner, with an accent so thick they're still trying to pull themselves out of it.
To say that the acting is a bit overdone is a little like saying that Bush has a small problem in Iraq. Following Steven Memel's lead, (he's all over the show) the cast digs into the roles and pulls out characters that combine all the human foibles wrapped neatly into a farce that strikes every funny bone, not once - not twice - but from the first utterance to the final bow. The live band features Piano by Gary Stockdale, Bass with John Classick, on Drums is Christopher Allis and on Guitar is Christian Nesmith.
Making a musical about Bukowski makes no sense to anyone but a Fool; so they rushed in where others dared not go and came up with a solid winner.
The Sacred Fools Theatre in Hollywood presents for the first time in "prime time", the Spencer Green/Gary Stockdale musical BUKOWSICAL, a musical review about the life of writer, poet, literate, and creative artist of the pen, the late Charles "Buk" Bukowski.
In this show through clever on-stage narration by the "artistic director", the audience gets to see the life of this great master of the written arts. From his unhappy childhood to an unhappier adult life, Bukowski turns for inspiration his number one friend: booze! After living with the lowlifes associated with starving writer types, he becomes "great" by writing prose about something or another. Thanks to the steady died of repression, depression and more booze, Charles becomes one of the greatest individuals of his kind--or it appears to wind up that way, give or take!
This production was once part of the Sacred Fools' late night 11:00 PM show, usually performed after the intended 8:00 PM performance. Due to popular demand, it arrives back, this time as the headliner! And it's not a recycled show, either! An additional twenty minutes of material has been added making this musical a full ninety minute one-act! Green and Stockdale who composed the book and lyrics, and Stockdale adding the score, creates a very funny and very original show that pays tribute to a creative type that few outsiders has ever heard of--until now!
The cast that appears in the show are (in alphabetical order), Christina Byron, Kathi Copeland, Matthew Garland, Ian Ross Gould, Michael Lanahan, Steven Memel, Fleur Phillips, and Gary Shapiro as Charles Bukowski. All of these performers do their thing under the direction of Jessie Marion.
There has never been a musical like BUKOWSICAL performed before, and perhaps there won't be another. It most likely won't be as good as this one! As the saying goes, if one has to see just one stage musical this season, let it be this one! The Great White Way will be a little dimmer this time around! (Either from too many burnt out light bulbs, or from a set of lights that could use a good cleaning! One knows what crusty bird crap will do to ruin an light source!)