The mixture of uninhibited fun and thinly disguised danger is what makes Venice Beach such an enticing place to visit. To its great credit, the musical “Greetings From Venice Beach” manages to capture both of those elements, creating in the process a show that is both entertaining and disturbing.
This compact, innovative work manages, through vignettes and songs, to paint a compelling portrait of a place (the Venice boardwalk) and a group of people (the “regulars” who call it home). It carefully avoids romanticizing its characters or the sometimes desperate situations in which they find themselves, but it also conveys the giddy joy of being free from society’s constraints.
There are three strands of plot.
One concerns the relationship between a 15-year-old street urchin and an elderly woman who lives nearby.
Another is a contest between a drug dealer and a clean-cut kid for the affection of a pretty new runaway.
The third centers on the death of an aging hippie, who was sleeping in a not-yet-completed homeless shelter when it burned to the ground.
As these stories evolve, the audience gets a good feel for the politics of the beach and the dynamics of the makeshift family of misfits that inhabit it.
One is left at the end with more questions than answers, which is appropriate given the complex nature of the issues raised.
The songs, which are more pop than Broadway, work splendidly, though the banality of many of the lyrics is disappointing. Advancing the plot, rather than poetic expression, clearly was the songwriters’ priority; one longs for a mixture of both.
The production, however, is absolutely first-rate. Joshua Rosenzweig’s high-energy direction and Tina Gerstler’s clever choreography keep the show constantly moving without ever making the stage overly busy.
Designer Ramsey Avery manages to capture the feel of the boardwalk through his huge set, which takes up a large room in a former factory building (the audience sits on three sides).
The ensemble acting is superb. Pamela Segall, who has a wicked way with a put-down, manages to take an overly familiar character and bring her to vivid life. Robin Skye belts out her songs beautifully as a one-time boardwalk resident who finds she no longer fits in.