The Real (Desperate) Housewives of Columbia County Musical, Book and Lyrics by Carl Ritchie, Music by Wayne Moore. Directed by Carl Ritchie. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"It isn't easy being a bitch!"
Desperate Housewives, Season One
It all started with television reinventing the American housewife. After years of "Father Knows Best" Jane Wyatt types and the Harriet Nelsons and so on, along came Candace Bergen and her highly unusual "Murphy Brown" along with the uniquely startling quartet of women of "Golden Girls" and more like them. Then "Sex and the City's" women really set up a new image of the urban wife and mother. Finally there was "Desperate Housewives" with its very different style of soap-opera Americana and the "reality" shows that followed where supposedly real women performed their very real stories in real time for a real audience. "Nashville" the TV series has taken this view one step further filming every revealing moment in the lives of a young country music couple with problems.
It was all ripe for parody. . .something at which author Carl Ritchie is very good. Three years ago he presented his musical comedy "The Real (Desperate) Housewives of Columbia County Musical" at a dinner theater where you could eat chicken, drink wine and laugh yourself silly at the quasi-reality show about women in the upstate New York community that mixed weekenders with money and locals with history with working women from the region and sent up the double genres of faux-reality and fictional suburbia soap. Five actresses had a ball playing these roles and the show, slightly altered went to New York City for a run and now, in a newly reduced version (all these women love to reduce as long as they don't reduce their egos or their nest-eggs) it has been touring the area this summer, settling in for an all-too-brief run at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon.
Meg Dooley, Cathy Lee-Vischer, Deidre Bollinger and Amy Fiebke are kicking up their extremely high heels showing their mid-thigh skirts and their lovely faces as they sing, dance and act their way through an hour and twenty minutes of frivolous, callous and sometimes cautiously optimistic character songs by Ritchie and Wayne Moore. Keeping the best material from the earlier versions, Ritchie has sculpted his funny hit show into an even more finely honed jacknife of a revue. With an opening night audience comprised of almost a four to one ratio of women to men every person in the room laughed themselves silly regardless of gender.
In spite of some delicate subject matter and some equally delicate language no one was offended and everyone was amused. You can't ask much more of that from an evening of theater these days.
Joanne Maurer's costumes are a hilarious lot in themselves and Allen Phelps lighting adds punch and poignancy to some of the zanier moments in the show.
Meg Dooley makes her ex-Broadway child star, Melody, into a show-stopping delight. She never gives an inch or loses the outrageous character concept for a moment. Deidre Bollinger as Melody's woman-of-all-work, Danny, has a visual highlight dressed as a classic Harlem pimp and her line delivery is non-stop caustic and simply hilarious. Amy Fiebke emotes like a TV wannabe (and those initials do NOT refer to television, folks); she is both over-the-top and right-on. Cathy Lee-Vischer as the local with centuries of family history is absolutely adorable with her physicality and her basic mentality and her faithfulness to her Dutch heritage.
Ritchie has staged his show with all the clarity and finesse of a master (and that word is used in all its connotations). "Real Desperate Housewives" they may be, but the really desperate folks are us - trying to get tickets to one of the most amusing shows of this season.
The Real Housewives of Vancouver
Amy Fiebke, Meg Dooley, Deidre Bollinger, Cathy Lee-Vischer
The Real (Desperate) Housewives of Columbia County Musical plays for one weekend ONLY at the Theater Barn located at 654 Route 20, New Lebanon (Columbia County), NY. For information and tickets call 518-794-8989.