Finally, a show that lives up to its title. Dirt Cheap Musicals, two new one-act musicals written and directed by Myles Nye, are unabashedly cheap—no sets, no costumes, no bells, no whistles, no accoutrement of any kind save a handful of actors and a two-piece band. The minimalism extends to plot, characterization and logic.
What saves it all from coming off as the Little Rascals missing a collective 23rd chromosome is Nye's undeniable gift of gab—both in the words his characters speak and in the lyrics they sing. Whether it's rhyming piety with sobriety or referencing the deliciously self-satisfying sins of Onan, there's an innocuous charm to Nye's work. You get the impression that while he's positively queer for musical theater, he doesn't take it—or himself—too seriously.
The first effort is The Seward Follies—An Eskimusical, which is exactly what it sounds like: a musical about Eskimos. More precisely, it's about Mackenzie, the last surviving female of child-bearing age in a tribe nearly eradicated by some unnamed plague. The only male survivor, Seward, repels her in every way. She's grown up hating this guy and now has to decide between giving it up for her people or holding onto some kind of personal integrity.
There's a rather unsavory patriarchal thread woven throughout this show (women exist primarily to serve the needs of men), and Nye's staging is amazingly brain-dead: he's got a whole theater to work with, but for some reason, Nye limits all physical activity to the center of the room. He's saved by Liza del Mundo's radiant portrait of Mackenzie, as well as Patti Cumby's impressive vocal chops. The problem with this show is that the only thing interesting in it is the songs—and there just aren't enough of them.
While the icebreaker is mostly forgettable, the second show, The Hunchback of North Dakota, A Musicalamity, is every bit as bizarre, chaotic and nonsensical as the title would indicate. Milo (the frenetically talented Russ Marchand) has left his North Dakota home for the life of a song-and-dance man in Los Angeles. He meets and falls for Holly (Kelly Albano), the archetypal self-involved Southern Californian, shacks up with a couple of pot-head roommates and embarks on the kind of pilgrimage that would have landed John Bunyan in the psych ward. On his way to stardom and true love, Milo meets, in no particular order, an Italian restaurant's manic maitre d', who plows through the audience looking for her stolen tiramisù; a brazenly cheeky Satan out for world domination; a gun-toting Princess Diana; and a secret-agent Mother Theresa, finally wrapping up everything with a musical homage to Survivor.
None of it makes any sense or comes together in any sort of satisfying climax, but the cast's utter determination to wring laughs from the material—as well as Nye's self-referential cheekiness (borne out mostly by raconteur/musical director Sean Hart, who serves as the play's jaded conscience of sorts)—makes it easy to forget just how uselessly dumb the whole affair truly is.
So, long story short: Nye's got talent and chutzpah, but you kind of hope that with these two funny, if ultimately dispensable, shows out of his system, he gets over his own cleverness and devises better reasons to display his obvious gifts.
DIRT CHEAT MUSICALS AT STAGES THEATRE, 400 E. COMMONWEALTH, FULLERTON, (714) 525-4484. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 5 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 20. $12-$15.