The Chance Theater scores a real coup in presenting the West Coast Premiere and first professional production of the latest musical by Mark Hollmann, the Tony-winning composer/co-lyricist of Urinetown.  (I guess this means that it could well be billed as the show’s Professional World Premiere.)  The musical is The Girl, The Grouch, And The Goat, and if Urinetown’s Little Sally had issues with the title of her musical, imagine what she’d have to say about this new mouthful of a title. Then again, this is indeed the story of a girl (named Myrrhine), a grouch (named Clemnon), and a goat (who remains nameless).

If names like Myrrhine and Clemnon sound more than vaguely mythological, you’re absolutely right. The Girl, The Grouch, And The Goat is a musicalization of Dyskolos, by Greek dramatist Menander (342–291 BC), and though it has a different book writer from Urinetown’s (this time, Chicago playwright-journalist-teacher Jack Helbig has taken pen to paper), and though not in Urinetown’s league, the resulting musical has the same brand of quirky irreverence—plus Hollmann’s catchy melodies and clever lyrics.  With master director Oanh Nguyen at the helm, The Girl, The Grouch, And The Goat makes for a delightfully merry & gay evening of theater.

“La la la la la, it’s a beautiful day in Ancient Greece” sing the residents of Phyle at lights up. There’s the town’s Vanessa Hudgens, the aforementioned Myrrhine (Brooke Cannons), daughter of Clemnon, the grouch (Glenn Koppel).  This nubile young beauty has caught the eye of Xander (Armando Gutierrez), Phyle’s Zac Efron, whose still MILF of a mother Xanthippe (Eloise Coopersmith) is none too happy with her son’s choice of sweetheart, a feeling she shares with the grouch (Glenn Koppel).  A pair of slaves (John Paul Karliak and David LaMarr, who also narrate the tale as Man 1 and Man 2), Xander’s baton-twirling preteen sister Daria (Sarah Pierce), and the goddess Aphrodite (Jessie McLean) complete the cast.

Everything would indeed be fine in Phyle were it not for Daria’s oft-sung complaint that “it was very very dry.” You see, just as happens two thousand plus years later in Urinetown, Phyle is suffering from a “totally weird drought” in which all the town’s wells have gone dry, except the one belonging Clemnon, the grouch’s.  Naturally, this gives mucho power to the grouch, though at least (in a wink to Hollman’s previous musical) Man 1 quips, “Be glad he doesn’t charge you to pee.”

Clemnon is so overprotective of Myrrhine that when she gives him an affectionate squeeze, his first thought is a suspicious “Where’d you learn to hug people like that?” Myrrhine first dreams up Xander in “What A Pretty Bird Up There,” not long after which the two share a meet-cute in which Xander apologizes for startling her and Myrrhine apologizes for making him apologize. Gutierrez gets maximum laughs from poor Xander’s tied-up tongue, and when he finally gets the words out, who should show up but the grouch, informing his daughter that Xander is “just the kind of boy I warned you about.” Grabbing his Fred Astaire cane, and backed up by the two canes a-bearing, jazz-hands a-swiveling slaves, Clemnon gives Myrrhine the musical advice “You’re Better Off At Home,” and proceeds to lock her up in a cottage with a single window and a locked door.

Apparently there’s only one way to make it rain in Phyne, and thus strip Clemnon of his power over the people and allow Xander and Myrrhine to be together. A goat must be sacrificed to appease the gods (because “human sacrifices are so last millennium”). After Xanthippe and the slaves jitterbug to “Wild Goat!” (“There’s reason to gloat when you’re serving your guests wild goat!”), off go the slave boys to find one.

Meanwhile, Xander tries to gain Clemnon’s favor by cleaning out his stables, mending his fences, milking his cows, feeding his chickens, retiling his roofs, and castrating his hogs—but to no avail. Singing “One Day You’ll Understand,” the grouch puts bars on Myrrhine’s window. 

As the tale progresses, flashbacks reveal that the grouch and Xanthippe once had a thing for each other, “It’s Kind Of Hard To Find A Wild Goat” features Aphrodite in goat mask-and-coat accompanied by the two slaves doing fancy  Fred Astaire-Gene Kelly footwork, and Act One ends with everyone at the bottom of Clemnon’s well except for Aphrodite, Myrrhine, and Man 2.

As he did in Urinetown, Hollmann proves himself a master of melody (one wishes a cast recording were available in order to hear the songs again) and rhyme (“trustable” and “combustible”). Helbig’s book is deliciously silly, with running jokes about busses (somehow Myrrhine gets it in her head that boys and busses are one and the same) and a girl named Elektra DeLuxe (who had “such a Daddy Complex”). Bill Strongin provides bouncy piano accompaniment, though one wishes that the show’s budget would permit a few more instruments. Kelly Todd’s choreography delightfully spoofs various dance genres.  (In addition to several already mentioned numbers, “There’s No Stopping Me” features Xanthippe, a black feather boa, and the two slaves dancing like swivel-hipped Vegas showboys.)

Director Nguyen, who’s handled deeper fare like Jesus Hates Me and Rabbit Hole, and reinvented Sondheim in Into The Woods, this time takes things a bit easier and just has fun with the wacky goings on, to charming and amusing effect.

The Girl, The Grouch, And The Goat is filled with all-around snappy triple-threat performances, and though sassy ball-of-fire LaMarr steals pretty much every scene he’s in, there are plenty of other gems, from Karliak’s cute, pizzazzy slave boy to Cannons’ sweet, nubile Myrrhine to Guttierez’s charming, earnest Xander.  Koppel is humorously overbearing as Clemnon, and shows off his opera-ready voice in “One Day You’ll Understand.”  Coopersmith is a vibrant, voluptuous Xanthippe, Pierce a sensational diva-in-training as Daria, and Anne Of Green Gables’ McLean a sexy revelation as Aphrodite.

John Robinson’s set and Cassandra L. Stone’s costumes have a nice Ancient Greece feel, and are well complemented by Jeff Brewer’s lighting and Bryan Barton’s sound design.

The Girl, The Grouch, And The Goat isn’t as revolutionary as Urinetown and is probably too intimate for a Broadway run, but the Chance production will certainly not be its last. It may be a while before there’s another local run, though, so for those who want another taste of Hollmann’s songs in (coincidentally) another story about a drought (albeit a very different one), now is the time to head over to Anaheim Hills to enjoy a tuneful adventure back in the hills of Ancient Greece.

Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.

–Steven Stanley
April 18, 2009
                                                             Photos: Doug Catiller

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