Peggy Sue Dunigan

Old fashioned summer fun with Hula Hoop Sha-Boop

By - Aug 8th, 2010 10:18 pm
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Brian Craft and Katie Siri in “Hula Hoop Sha-boop”. Photos: Milwaukee Rep.

Growing up. Falling in and out of love. Committing to that once-in-a-lifetime someone. These pivotal life moments create some of life’s most resonant memories.  JK Productions, together with West 30th Productions, presents these nostalgic recollections from the ’50s and ’60s in their entertaining production of “Hula Hoop Sha-Boop”, which opened at the Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret this weekend. A popular musical revue, the show runs through September 4 and gives us all the opportunity to relive these memories set to the soundtrack of over 70 songs from past hit parades – in a mere 90-minute performance.

The very loose narrative framework opens with Paul (Brian Craft), Paula (Katie Siri), Johnny (Marty McNamee) and Suzie (Beth Mulkerron) reenacting reflections from childhood in the opening numbers. A fun pop culture nod capitalizes on the 1954 Davey Crockett craze, where coonskin caps were all the rage and over 3,000 products were marketed under the name. (And when advertisers realized children’s monetary power in the consumer marketplace.) The song “Summertime” is playfully intercut with reminiscences of licking the cream from Twinkies and refreshing root beer floats.  And even while the four actors displayed some opening night nerves, the performance energized as they enter the teenage years.

The talented cast captures their characters with limitless enthusiasm. Craft and Siri affectionately embody the straight-laced, nerdy teenagers, while McNamee and Mulkerron inject a softer side to leather-jacketed rebels. Dancing to “The Hully Gully,” “Leader of the Pack,” “The Monster Mash,” “Johnny Angel” and “Venus” provide moments of pure fun, the actors camped up on an engaging set under Tony Clements’ direction.

Marty McNamee and Brian Craft. 

Perhaps the most poignant moment arrives when the quartet performs the “Duck and Cover” educational song used to instruct school children and the public on what to do in case of a nuclear attack. If the ’50s and early ’60s are indeed remembered as a more innocent or simpler time, this number exemplifies a country’s haunting naiveté in protecting themselves from “the flash” and the ravages of war. It’s a subtle (and humorous) reminder of the current wars that continually hide in the back of America’s contemporary collective conscious. The moment passes, as it should, and Suzie discovers “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” even as Paul asks, “Hey, Hey Paula,” (do you want to marry me?).

In an evening that personifies optimism, the audience will silently mouth the words and clap their hands to these classic pop favorites in this heartwarming tribute to the forerunners of rock ‘n roll. For me, not surprisinly, a personal favorite was Craft achingly singing Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”

If rock ‘n roll was quoted “to be a communicable disease,” as Siri relates in the evening’s narration taken from a 1950’s Time Magazine article on this up-and-coming musical revolution, then appreciating the Stackner’s “Hula Hoop Sha-Boop” might be a great way to catch that eternally uplifting fever. The production promises to gain momentum as it progresses through its August run, and offers a rollicking summertime pleasure.

“Hula Hoop Sha-Boop” runs through September 4, 2010. Tickets and performance times here.

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