Divorced Studio City homemaker Ashley Tribbiani has a shot at being picked as one of TV’s Real Housewives Of Studio City. There’s only one problem. As any reality TV fan will tell you, a real Housewife needs to have a real Housekeeper, and with ex-hubby Joey seriously in arrears on his alimony and child support payments, Ashley has hardly been able to hire help since their split. Now, with her Real Housewives audition only an hour away, Ashley (Lani Shipman) and gay best friend Scot (Ryan O’Connor) have exactly sixty minutes to hire the best maid possible out of ten of TVland’s most famous housekeepers.
Fortunately, the Hollywood Fringe Festival has allotted precisely one hour for Joe Green, Heidi Powers, Tom Moore to debut their brand new musical The Real Housekeepers Of Studio City, and what a sixty-minute-musical gem it is.
As Ashley’s name might suggest, her cheating ex is none other than Friends’ Joey Tribbiani, proving that once a player, always a player; thus, single mom life with a pair of rambunctious teenagers like Ethan (Daniel Switzer) and Olivia (Leigh Ann Smith) can only get better with some household help.
First to arrive for her interview is plus-sized Nell (Lorie Moore) of Gimme a Break! fame, who advises Ashley and Scott on how to “Shake And Shimmy” their way to full-out fabulousness. (“Be yourself and let it hang loose. Don’t be afraid of your juicy caboose,” are just a few of her words of musical advice.)
Next to show up are Rosey (Gabby Sanalitro) and Lurch (Matt Musgrove), and if the former is a Jetsons’ cartoon come to life and the latter one of The Addams Family living dead, that doesn’t make them any less qualified to keep house for Ashley and her brood, especially since, as they duet, it’s “Better With Two”—and that includes some raunchy lyrics simulated robo-monster sex. (One person cannot do it all. Tennis is impossible and teeter-totters fall. Masturbation’s nice but nothing fills you like a bone and neatly folded sheets? You can’t do it alone.”)
The Facts Of Life’s Edna Garrett (Greene) pops over next, her hair as high as ever (if not higher), and the most qualified so far in “How To Handle Teenagers” even if it means lying through her teeth, as when Mrs. Garrett manages the near impossible (getting Olivia to appreciate Ethan) by inventing a deceased brother, killed at nineteen by a drunk driver.
Arrival number five, a shirtless, sculpted Tony (Harris Markson), knows exactly Who’s The Boss. “Don’t Take No For An Answer” is his advice to Ashley, and he might be just what Mrs. Tribbiani’s been waiting for were he not, as Scot points out, the spitting image of that no-good louse Joey.
Tres criadas latinas are next on Ashley’s doorstep—Rosario (Chala Savino) from Will & Grace, Family Guy’s Consuelo (Sanalitro), and Flipping Out’s Zoila (Gina Torrecilla). Yes, Consuelo is animated maid number two, and no, I’ve never heard of Zoila either, but no matter. The three spicy housekeepers give Ashley and Scot a lesson in assertiveness, teaching them to be “Crazy Birds.” That’s “pájaros locos” for all you Spanish speakers.
A celebration of TV’s most famous maids wouldn’t be complete without visits from The Jefferson’s Florence (Moore), the only would-be Real Housekeeper without her own song (cut for time’s sake?), followed by arguably the most famous maid of all, Alice (Torrecilla) from The Brady Bunch, whose blended brood of Bradys will live on forever in “The Syndication Of Your Mind.” (“While they tell you jokes and stories, you should leave the chores behind. You’ll be rolling in the aisles in the syndication of your mind.”)
With so many choices and only a handful of minutes remaining before The Real Housekeepers’ sixty minutes max have ticked down to zero, what’s a Real Housewife Of Studio City like Ashley Tribbiani to do?
Book writers Powers and Moore have clearly done their TV homework, their clever, funny script reflecting both television’s classic sitcom past and its high-concept reality TV present, and there is considerable pleasure in seeing so many beloved characters sharing the stage, if not all at precisely the same time. Add to that the writing team’s deft lyrics and Greene’s catchy tunes and you have a musical that could easily become a regional and community theater favorite in an expanded ninety-minute form.
Greene, Powers, and Moore have definitely lucked out in securing the talents of director Ryan Bergmann, choreographer Janet Roston, and an all-around splendid cast.
Bergmann keeps the Tribbiani clan sitcom TV real and makes sure that his cast of maids stay true to the TV originals, albeit in slightly heightened form. Roston has choreographed some bouncy dance sequences tailored to the talents of her cast.
As Ashley, the luminous Shipman has just the right girl-next-door quality to endear Mrs. Tribbiani to the audience from her first entrance, and O’Connor couldn’t be a more delightful (and thankfully not overly stereotypical) gay best friend. Both are terrific vocalists, as are Switzer and Smith, whose combative (and highly telegenic) siblings provide lively support.
Moore gives Nell ample joie de vivre and her Florence is a sassy hoot. Musgrove is a dead-ringer for basso profundo Lurch, and a handsome spook even made up to look dead. The cute and cuddly Sanalitro steals every scene she’s in as both robotic Rosey and cleanliness freak Consuela. Having Edna played by a man in makeup, wig, and heels is an inspired choice, and Greene couldn’t be more dragtastic as Mrs. Garrett. As for Markson, his pecs and six-pack are as applause-worthy as his pitch-perfect Tony Danza. Savino’s snappy Rosario is a reminder of just how well-matched the Latina spitfire and Karen Walker were on Will & Grace. Torrecilla is a dandy Zoila, but it’s her Alice that earns audience recognition from her first entrance and pays affectionate, accurate tribute to the one-and-only Ann B. Davis. Moore, Markson, and producer Gregory Guy Gorden appear briefly, if unnecessarily, as Fresh Prince, Gillian, and Skipper.
Music director Ryan O’Connell gets his cast vocalizing spiffily to prerecorded tracks. Scenic designer Dan Hooker’s living room set is easy-on, easy-off as befits a Fringe production, but it works. Top marks go to Greene’s costume designs and hairdos by Miss Ellen & Hollywood Wigs, all of them character-perfect, with a special tip of the helmet to Daavid Hawkin’s Rosey The Robot costume. On the minus side, the uncredited lighting design fails at times to light performers as effectively as it should. Rebecca Eisenberg is assistant director. Rob Siminoski and Emily Lehrer are stage managers.
If yesterday’s audience reaction is any indication, The Real Housekeepers Of Studio City should live on long past its Hollywood Fringe Festival premiere engagement. All that’s needed are some extra minutes to bring it up to full-length format, that and some higher end sets and lighting. My guess is even the pickiest Studio City housekeeper would give these Real Housekeepers Of Studio City a big thumbs up.
Theater Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
June 20, 2013