HOUSTON – "We're not using the film at all, there's no need to," stated Jimmy Phillips, the director of Theater LaB's April 15 - May 24 revival of Eating Raoul, the 1992 musical version of Paul Bartel's 1982 cult movie of the same name. "The book for the musical is really strong. The space in Theater LaB doesn't lend itself to all the levels in the film. I don't want actors to be influenced by established performances. And the musical is much lighter than the movie, not as dark at all."
Book by Bartel (he co-wrote, directed, and co-starred in the movie), music by Jed Feuer and lyrics by Boyd Graham, the campy, vampy show is about Paul and Mary Bland, whose adventures are anything but bland. After Mary is accosted by a swinger who lives upstairs and Paul accidentally kills him by wielding a frying pan to the noggin, the asexual Blands have a brainstorm about how to raise the money necessary to open up a longed-for cafe: lure perverts into their apartment, bop them dead on the head and rob them. Tax-free community service, in other words. All goes according to plan until Raoul, the super, discovers their ruse; a would-be nightclub singer of "salsa egotistica," Raoul has his own designs on their crimes, offering to dispose of the corpses via a dog food factory, for instance. The "mucho macho man" also tempts Mary about other bodily functions. The title more than hints at what ultimately becomes of the super, who's a bit too scheming for the Blands.
"It looks like camp, but we can't do it as camp," Phillips explained. "We must be sincere. We can't be over the top in terms of characterization. Paul and Mary and real honest people," even if they murder for money. "They really want a restaurant." Paul and Mary, Phillips continued, are earnest, and their characters change, each learning what, and whom, to value most. "The love and commitment between Paul and Mary saves them."
That being said, Eating Raoul the musical is supposed to be a hoot. The movie was set in the early 1980s; for "fun" Bartel pushed the musical back to the mid 1960s to avoid the AIDS era and to underscore the swinger phenomenon. To Phillips, "Eating Raoul is a retro kind of thing, a time warp. So we're going back to the early seventies. There will be lots of bellbottoms and paisleys and midriff shirts and disco."
Part of the reason for the 1970s motif is that that's the era in which Phillips grew up. But Phillips also likes the fashion better then, thinks its more theatrical, more suited to the show's sensibilities. "And the music of the 70s, disco, has such a flare." Plus, the times were still relatively innocent then; sex didn't kill and drugs hadn't become epidemic. Although the show is more buoyant and sportive than the black comedy film, Phillips is "going all out" to mirror its naughtiness. "Our dominatrix is 6' 2" in stiletto heels and has a 38 bust." Raoul will be part Carmen Miranda, part Tito Puente, part Ricky Ricardo. Most essentially, "The theme of the show is how to find sexiness in the ordinary things in life, in the everyday, in the mundane, in the commonplace, like marriage."
"It will be presentational," Phillips said. "We're stressing the victims as a Greek chorus, explaining the action. We're using modular furniture that comes together in one scene and pulls apart for others." So much will audiences be on top of the action, Phillips asserted, that they won't be sure whom Mary will bop at the climactic moment.
Eating Raoul runs April 15 - May 24 at Theater LaB in Houston. For tickets, $18, call (713) 868-7516
See separate interview with Bartel, in Apr. 9 news story on Playbill On-Line.
By Peter Szatmary