The show, created by and starring Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, was a Broadway hit that ran 1,404 performances, to 1941. "Audiences loved what the critics panned," according to TACT notes. "What was unique about the show was its willingness to break any and all rules. Hellzapoppin didn't just break the 'fourth wall' — it shattered it."
"This is not a timid production," stated Jack Marshall, TACT artistic director and Hellzapoppin director. "Hellzapoppin has chaos, noise, and running gags galore. There is no rest for the cast or the audience. What is also so special about this production is the go-for-broke, absurdist, self-referential satire of theatre in general."
Some television variety shows have mirrored the antic spirit of Hellzapoppin, the troupe points out, referencing such programs as "Laugh-In," which "used strange contests, acts that fell apart, and two amiable comics who mostly presided over the antics of a stable of loonies"; "Hee-Haw"; Nickelodeon's kid's comedy "You Can't Do That on Television"; and "The Muppet Show."
There is no published script for the property, and the original production changed every night. Marshall and musical director Tom Fuller "extracted the best, most enduring and most famous bits and skits, and much of Olsen and Johnson's banter."
They "discarded the hopelessly dated routines and merged some others with similar-themed material from Olsen and Johnson movies." Original audience interaction material was retained, as well as the skits requiring audience stooges.
The original musical score by Sammy Fain and Charles Tobias was partially missing, and replaced with an eclectic collection of nonsense songs, parodies and vaudeville-inspired musical comedy routines for today's audiences.
"After a year of painstaking research and work, the resurrected Hellzapoppin is ready with a comedy-savvy cast of 26," TACT announced.
The cast includes Bill Karukas (Olsen) and Doug Krenzlin (Johnson) and Andrea Abrams, Brian Crane, Suzanne Edgar, Kathy Fuller, Tanera Hutz, Steve Lebens, Steve McWilliams, Alex Perez, Jennifer Robison Potts, John Tweel and Glenn White, as well as Ron Sarro, Deborah Critzer, Evan Crump, Esther Covington, Ellen Dempsey, Louis George, Mary Millben, Ginny Tarris, Emily Webbe and Ed Xavier, with TACT newcomers Alice Fuller, Anne Fuller and Claire Fuller.
Producer Eleanor Gomberg's technical team includes Rip Clauussen (assistant director and costumer), Mike Switalski (set designer), Matt Otto (sounder designer) Marc Wright (lighting designer) and Rhonda Hill (stage manager).
"Everybody has heard about Hellzapoppin, but few if any have seen why it was so justly famous," stated Marshall. "Now they will. All that is left is for them to leave their dignity at the door. It is not simple."
An ill-fated revival of the show starred Jerry Lewis, but did not come to Broadway.
Hellzapoppin will be performed at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, VA. Performances are Thursday-Saturday evenings at 8 PM and 2:30 PM matinees on July 15, 22, 29 and August 4, 11 and 18. Tickets are $23-$29. Visit www.americancentury.org or call (703) 553-8782 for information and tickets and group sales.
The American Century Theater is "dedicated to presenting great, important, and neglected plays of the Twentieth Century — what Henry Luce called 'the American Century.' Our mission is based on the firm conviction that this theatrical repertoire — influential and critically acclaimed dramas, comedies, and teleplays first produced between 1920 and 1970 — portrays a uniquely American vision that is vital to our shared cultural heritage. In today's increasingly Balkanized society, finding this common ground has become essential."