Combine supernatural romance with the breezy period musicals “Hairspray” and “Grease,” soundtrack it to the tunes of Phil Spector, Burt Bacharach and Motown, and put it through spin cycle for a couple of hours, and you’d come out with something resembling “Suds.”
The irreverent musical comedy, which premieres Friday at Spokane Civic Theatre, gleefully sends up the straight-faced theatricality of many ’60s radio hits.
“It’s melodramatic, it’s silly. It’s more about the music than the story, which is just a fun little catalyst,” said director, Delvone Bullis. “But it’s really about rocking out to good ’60s music.”
And what a playlist this show boasts. Expect to hear “Be My Baby,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Respect,” “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “The Loco-Motion” and even a couple of Beatles hits. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a great oldies station, and Bullis hinted that sing-alongs and audience participation are a part of the act.
The story of “Suds” focuses on a Laundromat employee named Cindy (Krista Vaughn), who’s having a birthday party to rival Lesley Gore’s: She’s just been dumped by her pen pal boyfriend (her penmanship isn’t to his liking) and decides to kill herself using a washing machine. She’s saved, though, by two clashing guardian angels (Phedre Burney-Quimby and Beth Raleigh) who aim to set Cindy up with Mr. Right.
Although the overall tone is arch, “Suds” does hint at darker themes of rejection, depression and suicide. Bullis said he wanted a cast that could find the right approach to the material, and he cast his five actors (Charles Fletcher and Adam Maddox play various male roles) based on their vocal abilities as well as their improv skills.
“I believe in a collaborative style, and I knew I had to get a cast that would be creative and were willing to throw out ideas,” Bullis said. “I would look at the scene and start blocking it, and then ask the actors to be creative within that space.”
In order for most comedy to succeed, the characters can’t really be aware they’re funny, and Bullis and his actors found as much truth in the show’s screwball scenario as they did humor.
“For (the characters), this is normal; this is how life is,” he said. “We had that conversation and found all the relationships and created back stories. And once we found that truth, we were able to expand it to make it a comedic and wild show.”
And although “Suds” does have moments of genuine reflection, it is, above all else, the kind of goofy, punny farce that Rowan and Martin might have loved. “I can just imagine Carol Burnett in this show, hamming it up,” Bullis said.