Awesomeness on Wheels: ROLLER DISCO: THE MUSICAL

photo credit: Ministry of Theater

Roller Disco:  The Musical, book by Sam Forman and Jen Wineman, lyrics by Sam Forman, music by Eli Bolin, Ministry of Theater and Club Oberon, 5/30/12-8/30/12,

Reviewed by Craig Idlebrook

(Cambridge, MA) Sometimes, you come across a play that works so effortlessly on so many levels that it skates circles around your standard theatrical fare.  Club Oberon’s Roller Disco, glittery, vacant, hyper and hysterical, draws the audience into a disco-soaked world from the theme song’s opening strands.  We have no choice but to harken back to striped tube socks, gritty skating rinks and cheesy eighties movies.  Heck, we never even put up a fight.

The play, an unauthorized parody of the movie Roller Boogie, is really a send-up of all those one-and-half star movies where zany kids come together to save the (roller rink, prom, beloved gym teacher) from (evil goons, Baptists, mean vice-principals).  The script could very well be titled Literal Musical, as the characters often bypass real dialogue to speak directly in script-motivation subtext.  And all this happens on wheels.

The cast commits full-tilt to the tricky task of simultaneously looking like complete idiots and seventies sex-pots, and their chemistry is evident. (If a couple doesn’t materialize from this cast, then all back-stages across America have gone chaste.) Director Jen Wineman mixes the perfect comic timing of her veteran actors with the enthusiasm of her newbies.  Some of the cast’s over-the top performances could have been grating, but she balances them effectively with good pacing.

In some ways, DJ Petrosino stands out by not standing out in this over-the-top play; he creates two pitch-perfect, underplayed characters in a roller rink rat and an evil real estate mogul. Neither grabs the audience by the throat, but Petrosino’s performances ground the show so his fellow cast-members can soar. Also, the enthusiasm of Claudia Yanez that is evident every time she strolls across the stage makes you want to lace up a pair of skates.  Sometimes, technique is overrated when it comes to ridiculousness.

The songs in this parody, done with a flourish by Sesame Street composer Eli Bolin, are scarily good.  The show-stopping number, “Learning to Skate” pays homage to anthem songs like Rent’s “Seasons of Love”, but the song creates an eerie moment where you drop the smirk and almost get teary.

And it’s fun to watch co-writers Forman and Jen Wineman pick up a head of steam in the second act.  You can almost see their collective light bulb go off when they realize they had created such a layered world that they can play off their own inside jokes instead of ribbing other scripts.  The fun builds momentum like a pair of kids skating down a steep hill in a chase scene.

Roller Disco is so effortlessly good that it makes you wonder why mediocre comedies exist.  See this play and bask in the glitz.

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