Damned Strange

It's official. Theater LaB has cornered the Houston market when it comes to the sort of campy high jinks that happen in shows like Michael Ogborn's Box Office of the Damned. No one but Theater LaB could pull off the shenanigans that make up Ogborn's wacky two-hour-long love-to-hate-you ode to ticket sellers everywhere with all the sloppy hilarity that such silliness requires. Numbers include a stomping good-time polka featuring volunteer ushers of the trashy, big-haired ilk, a dark and sexy ballad sung by none other than a walking, talking ticket, and of course there's the call to prayer to the "Ticket Mother of Invention." Not exactly Strindberg, but great theater is hardly the point in this evening of the ridiculous. And the gassed-up cast members at Theater LaB, who race through the musical revue at breakneck speed, are having so much fun that no one cares when an actor loses a bit of costume mid-song or trips into the lap of the audience. The missteps only add to the smiling loopiness of the show.

Good times begin in the offices of Amalgamated Tickets, where John (Jimmy Phillips), Matt (Tye Blue), Susan (Bethany Daniels) and Jimmy (Greg Gorden) are busy at work, answering phone calls from unsuspecting ticket buyers everywhere. If Ogborn (who reportedly has done some real-life hard time in a box office) is telling the truth in his lyrics, those ticket sellers who send callers to the purgatory of "hold," really don't give a rat's patootie what John Q. Public wants. In the Rastafarian-sounding lament "Please Hold," the sad sacks who manage the phones do anything and everything while callers languish on hold, including pounding out a terrific tune with little more than a stack of tickets, a date stamp and the phones.

The trouble that loosely ties these tunes together enters stage right, in the form of charming Tracie (Joanne Bonasso). All done up in purple and pink, Tracie is a true anomaly in the ticket agent industry: a people pleaser. In fact, she can't say no to anyone. Fed up with her nice-girl attitude, her fellow workers gang up in "Just Say 'No'" and force the terrible word from Tracie's trembling lips. The song is a scream. Bonasso flies through it with such electricity that it's clear the usually reserved and careful performer is having a blast getting down and dirty. Pretty as ever, she flops across the floor screaming as the others gather like beasts waiting for the woman to wail out a long "Nooooo." The image had the opening-night audience laughing through the blackout.

Some of the best numbers come when the limber cast does double duty in a series of smaller roles. Who could forget "Viva La Matinee," featuring four senior ladies who sing the joys of attending the matinee performance as they drive to the theater. Phillips, who is also the production's director, shows off all his talents in this number. Dressed in drag, with gray curls, plastic glasses and a big sack of a dress, he looks like a favorite aunt on steroids. His big-eyed, hammy delivery is a delight. He's also done some fast footwork with the direction here, sending himself and the three other cranky characters around the stage in a "car" fashioned from rolling desk chairs. The song is a long cliché about old ladies falling asleep or having bladder trouble mid-show, but the delivery is so charmingly energetic and visually rich that the content hardly matters.

More original is "We See It All," about ticket buyers who feel the need to purchase tickets to anything and everything, no matter if they have the time to see the show or not. Sung by the company, the number belongs to Bonasso. No matter which theater she performs in, Bonasso is always the best-dressed actress on the stage. Here, she strolls out in a silky gown that clings to every curve, underscoring once again just how lovely she can be. It's the perfect getup for a parody of the uptown theatergoer. Looking every inch the part, Bonasso commands the stage, understanding that the absurd complaints of the rich and beautiful come off as ridiculously petty when the complainers look so damned good.

The only ballad in the show becomes one of the silliest moments, mostly because it's sung with such wonderfully deadpan irony. Tye Blue sings "Remember Me" in a gorgeously melodic voice, handling such lines as "I'm a ticket" with straight-faced seriousness. Perhaps it's the richness of Blue's singing, or the trench coat he wears lined in ticket stubs, but the wild weirdness of the whole thing is hysterical.

Technically, the show is as basic as they come. The only trick of light comes from a mirror ball that hangs so low one of the actors inadvertently hit his head on it. Steven Jones's musical direction makes the most out of six voices and a piano. The real joy here is the energy glowing from the stage. Sloppy good fun is what it's all about.

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Lee Williams