Review: ‘Oil City Symphony’

The off-Broadway musical spoof "Oil City Symphony" is amusing and enjoyable, though some of its edge is lost in the transfer from downtown New York in the ' 80s to uptown Pasadena in the '90s.

The off-Broadway musical spoof “Oil City Symphony” is amusing and enjoyable, though some of its edge is lost in the transfer from downtown New York in the ‘ 80s to uptown Pasadena in the ’90s.

Creators of successful “Pump Boys and Dinettes” have fashioned a whimsical reunion recital by Oil City High School alumni Mike (Mike Craver), Mark (Mark Hardwick), Debbie (Klea Blackhurst) and Mary (Emily Mikesell).

All are former students of the mythical Miss Hazel Reeves, who is honored during the off-beat, though not off-key, musical revue that ranges from kitsch classic to kitsch pop.

Eclectic musical selections include a heartfelt solo “Ohio Afternoon,” by Debbie, who is the wife a dentist, sports a blond flip and also plays a mean set of drums.

Campy novelty numbers like “Double Date,” an audience-participation “Hokey-Pokey” and a “Christmas Medley” encore are featured, as well as some genuinely touching numbers like “Iris,” sung by Mike, a former rebel turned music teacher.

Musical spoofs are tricky material, since they require an audience that is close enough to the music to get the joke, but far enough away to think it’s funny. The downtown New York crowd probably had no problem with this stuff, especially in a smaller theater that would give it the intimacy–always a boon to comedy.

However, the older, more conservative Pasadena crowd might be less enthusiastic, especially now that the depressing ’90s have dawned and the material (and two of the performers) have been at it for at least five years.

Still, resounding applause and lots of belly laughs from the opening-night crowd bode well for the show’s monthlong stop on its tour around the country.

While the performance begins in a campy though understated style that stretches somewhat for humor –a cross between “Saturday Night Live” and “Prairie Home Companion”–the second act is more lively as we learn more about each of the characters onstage.

At that point, the humor becomes more connected to character, and audience sees more range and personality than simply a kind of “Geeks Play the Fractured Classics.”

What makes the show work is the varied musical talents of the performers, all of whom play a number of instruments and display real vocal gifts in the accompanied songs and a cappella numbers.

Acting is also important here and Craver and Blackhurst give particularly noteworthy performances.

Oil City Symphony

(Pasadena Playhouse; 701 seats; $ 31.50 top)


Pasadena Playhouse presentation of a musical spoof in two acts. Created by Mike Craver, Mark Hardwick, Debra Munk, Mary Murfitt.


Sets, Gary L. Wissmann; lighting, Paulie Jenkins; sound, Jon Gottlieb. Opened, reviewed Nov. 15, 1992; runs through Dec. 20.


Debbie ... Klea Blackhurst Mike ... Mike Craver Mark ... Mark Hardwick Mary ... Emily Mikesell
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