HOUSTON -- Well, after a worried few weeks, Happily Hereafter finally has a chance to do just that: live happily hereafter. Originally, the new quick-change musical comedy about the afterlife was supposed to have premiered at Main Street Theater in Houston April 30. But local playwright/songwriter/actress Marianne Pendino and area director Steve Garfinkel had such difficulty in casting the sole male role that the show was put on hold. Until this past weekend, that is. Happily Hereafter will open at Main Street on May 21 for what more than likely will be a six-week run.
"We really needed a strong singer and actor," Pendino told PBOL over coffee. "Some could do one, but not the other." The role(s) in question: an East Indian guru, a right-wing fundamentalist radio evangelist, and a retarded adult. "Those who could do both couldn't do accents." The accents turned out to be the key stumbling block. "Accents come relatively easy for me," Pendino said. "I just assumed that others could do them too." Scores auditioned.
Enter Jimmy Phillips, who's currently basking in the rave reviews for his frisky direction of Eating Raoul across town at Theater LaB. A veteran performer of such Theater LaB musical comedy smashes as Box Office of the Damned, in which he had to assume numerous guises, straight-and-narrow to stuffed-shirt, fop to freak, the versatile Phillips, Pendino and Garfinkel agreed, is just their man--men.
Created with first-time writer Jane Seger, Happily Hereafter is a three-person, nine-character comedic examination of the spiritual forever. A Catholic nun, a former Chicano gang leader/rap star wanna-be, and God's ever-patient personal secretary, named, of course, Grace, are part of the mix. Happily Hereafter began as a monologue as a way to show appreciation for volunteers at an area Catholic retreat; it was spoken by the protagonist, Angela, the new arrival to heaven. In its final play-length form, Happily Hereafter uses humor to probe such fundamental questions as: do we need a religion to be devout? The hope is that the show teaches tolerance and that there are many ways to access the divine.
Pendino is most readily known in Houston for her one-woman musical satire The Attitude Club, a lampoon of the self-help movement. Along the road less traveled, Pendino played/met such colorful types as Baba Swami, an Indian guru; Ramon, a visionary popsicle vendor; and Thelma Lou, a sassy trailer house mom. Premiering at Main Street in 1993, it sold out for three successive years during extended holiday runs and later was SRO in Galveston at the Strand Street Theatre. This past August Pendino was invited to bring it to the First Annual International Fringe Festival in New York but had to decline because of the prohibitive cost of travel and production expenses. When asked why she's not taking on all the roles in Happily Hereafter, indeed, why she's taken on a writing partner at all, Pendino smiled. "I really wanted dialogue this time. I really wanted a play. I was getting lonely."
Happily Hereafter opens at Main Street Theater in Houston on May 21 for what more than likely will be a six-week run. For tickets, $12 - $17, call (713) 524-6706
By Peter Szatmary