The new musical at Sacred Fools Theater, “Bukowsical!” serves as the antithesis of last year’s Cal Rep show “Love, Bukowski.” Whereas the latter play was a tribute to the beauty and diversity of Charles Bukowski’s poetry, Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale’s tuner deflates Bukowski’s legend and hipster image with a sober vengeance. Unfortunately, this show is more miss than hit. Director Dean Cameron does what he can to liven things up with an energetically choreographed staging, but songs of uneven quality and a cast of mostly nonsingers keep this latenight show from living up to its clever concept.
The funny thing is that the subject of these productions might well have appreciated them both, since a scurrilous sense of humor and humility were prevalent in his work.
The conceit of the musical is that Steven Memel (Steven Memel) has written it and is showing it off under the auspices of the Sacred Angel Fist Circle of Note Gang Theater Company to gain financial backers. It’s a loosely biographical depiction of the life of Bukowski (David Lawrence), from the childhood in which other kids tormented him to his young years on the “derelict trail,” where he encounters his muse, Sweet Lady Booze (Christina Byron). He eventually winds up in L.A., where he meets his True Love (Fleur Phillips). Eventually his poems are published to acclaim, and Hollywood comes calling in the form of director Barbet Schroeder (Michael Lanahan). Will our hero sell out or stay true to his drunken calling?
Green and Stockdale have fun tweaking pretentious musicals in the concisely titled “Opening Number,” with such winning refrains as “When you’re down on your luck and too drunk to fuck — Bukowsical!” The romantic duet “Chaser of My Heart” contains this non-Hallmark sentiment: “If your nose should bleed nonstop, I’ll be your mop.” The bulk of the songs, however, are less amusing than they might have been.
Memel has the smarmy self-congratulating artiste bit down, but ultimately his perf is a series of diverting moments that don’t add up. Lawrence doesn’t look or act much like Bukowski, and as a result, his perf — although amiable enough — feels like a hole in the center of the show. Phillips attacks all her roles gamely and displays a fine madness as the dissipated True Love. Byron and Lanahan lend expert comedic talent, but the rest of the cast is less impressive.
Ruth Silveira’s costume design adds a witty flair to the proceedings, from Sweet Lady Booze’s Jack Daniels bottle outfit to Memel’s “Phantom of the Opera” half-mask and cape. Director Cameron contributes droll details as well, from the road sign reading “Now Leaving Innocence” to the fact that all the participants in the 12-step program Bukowski joins have matching cigarettes and cups of coffee.