Co-owned by Chef Wayne Elias and Chris Diamond, Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles has increasingly come up the ranks as a sought after destination for live theatre in Southern California. In the midst of dining patrons, uber-talented performers wade through and play for a dedicated, and often sold-out, group of admirers. Among a spate of other entertainment spectacles, Rockwell’s Unauthorized Musical Parody series has amassed quite the following, the most recent being “The Last Breakfast Club” (also presented in association with The Fuse Project) – which will span the entire summer between Thursdays and Sundays.
Produced and written by the ingenious team of Kate Pazakis and Bradley Bredeweg, the latter of whom is also director, “The Last Breakfast Club” is the best of the satirical musicals to date, boasting an all-star cast and a modern-infused narrative that ostensibly acts as a sequel to the 32-year-old cult film. And, with not only cascades of comedy to elicit boisterous laughs, but an exploration of more substantive concepts, the show succeeds on multiple accounts, weaving the various yarns into a must-see extravaganza.
Without revealing too many spoilers, the scenario is as such: the Brat Pack and company have been festering inside Shermer High School’s library for many years, amid a zombie apocalypse that has engulfed the earth because of shady politicians and, well, the fact that an excess of plutonium fell into the wrong hands. Principal Vernon has been accursed by a flesh-eating predisposition, the janitor has spent too much time in his own closet, and the five detention-stewing teen angsters are doubtlessly recognizable except for some choice twists. Not to mention, there is an exciting plot surprise at the close of Act I.
Needless to say, from the very first scene when they harmonize an apropos mash-up of Simple Minds’ iconic “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World,” we fall in love with “The Brain, “Athlete,” “Basketcase,” “Princess,” and “Criminal” all over again, except for different reasons. Portraying Brian is the wonderfully talented Garrett Clayton, who many remember for being Link in NBC’s “Hairspray Live!” from this past December. Clayton has a knack for impeccable comic timing and being able to evoke a tremendous reaction by knowing exactly where to make his mark, with pinpoint non-verbals, and just the right inflection (this also translates very well to his aptitude for even the highest of notes). As “The Brain,” he utters several zingers in what may initially seem like peripheral aw-shucks moments that actually stand out as memorable bits. Proof positive of this is a running-joke exchange where he tries to get Vernon’s attention by exasperatingly raising his hand and innocently bellowing “Sir, Sir, Sir!” to the increasing uproariousness of the audience.
Jonah Platt, who is both a respected stage and behind-the-scenes player, is terrific as the gloved and flannel-wearing Bender – a character who overcompensates for his abusive past with gruff machismo. Platt’s energy and intensity levels are off the charts, and his rock voice resounds with grit, as he sings, among other hits, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” When Platt loathingly recounts his father’s mistreatment of him, we are suddenly in awe of how well he does it insofar that the monologue has its own unique stamp, as opposed to being merely a re-enactment of Judd Nelson’s famous speech.
As Emilio Estevez’s Andrew, Max Ehrich of “Young and the Restless” fame impresses with an understated sensibility that grows as the storyline moves along. As a naturalistic actor, his character enjoys sweet moments with Lana McKissack’s Allison, as the two discuss their personae’s motivations without pretense or fanfare – a welcome break from the production’s usual hustle and bustle. Ehrich, moreover, is blessed with a melodic voice that can effortlessly turn the dial up to maximum power, specifically evidenced by his rendition of Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings,” when he lovingly emotes his character’s desire to finally be himself.
The lone women in the show, Lana McKissack and Anna Grace Barlow similarly offer much more than just an impersonation, as Allison and Claire, respectively. McKissack commits wholly to the unhinged and disheveled craziness of Allison, performing upside-down “synchronized swimming,” screeching drolly, dramatically downing half a bottle of vodka (water), and even beautifully pronouncing “covfefe.” She is, furthermore, highlighted during “Come on Allie” (a play on “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners) and Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” (vis-à-vis Barlow’s Claire), eventually becoming the embodiment of female empowerment and equality – a responsibility that McKissack is equipped to handle.
Barlow conveys the cool factor quite effectively as Claire, but with arguably a greater degree of self-reflection and solemnity than Molly Ringwald’s interpretation. Granted, Ringwald doesn’t get to sing like Barlow does in this musical, who particularly leaves a lasting impression with Mike + The Mechanics’ “The Living Years.” Her version of this ballad pulls more heartstrings that can be imagined, and is certainly one significant reason to see “The Last Breakfast Club.”
Lastly, despite not being among the five coming-of-age adolescents, Jimmy Ray Bennett and Damon Gravina are undoubtedly standout performers whose characters also have a lot of growing to do. Bennett, who as Vernon is clad in a beige suit and whose face is half-painted with zombie-ridden irascibility, commands an uncanny control of the stage and in his ability to, for example, growl maniacally before stopping midway to deliver a line with stark equanimity – a funny contrast. Oingo Bongo’s “Dead Man’s Party” is also a superb song choice for Bennett, who, along with Gravina, pull double duty as a legendary film duo who profoundly impact the trajectory of the narrative (a great surprise).
Naturally, Gravina is hysterical as the religious janitor who projects (in the psychological sense), a barrage of dislike for anyone who plays for the proverbial home team. We can’t cast aspersions upon Gravina’s janitor for too long, however, because he stuns with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and is charming in how he comedically censors himself from saying swear words and asks for Church-inspired donations in his broom-turned collection receptacle. Certainly, we are right in thinking that the janitor is exceptionally personable – a credit to Gravina – who follows the road to his character’s redemption, culminating with “Hurts So Good” by John Mellencamp.
Spectacularly, the cast of only seven manage to be larger than life in “The Last Breakfast Club,” which excels by virtue of spot-on timing and the coalescence of actors who make each other stronger by association. As with Rockwell’s Table & Stage Unauthorized Musical Parody performances, laughs happen by the second, but there are also mature themes about identity and inclusion that are delved into, adding a layer of earnestness to the production. The fantastically sung classics from the 1980s – including additional ones by Twisted Sister, Prince, Tears for Fears, The Bangles, and more – are also a testament to the prowess of Musical Director Gregory Nabours and his band, who tirelessly play throughout the show.
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