Gilligan’s Island: The Musical

Book by Sherwood and Lloyd J. Schwartz, Music & Lyrics by Laurence and Hope Juber,

Directed by Tony Smith

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

Love them or hate them, the Alley Theater keeps chugging along and earning its reputation as a venue for unusual and fringe productions you just don’t see performed by other theater groups in the Louisville area. Whether it’s their parodies such as Point Break Live! or Star Wars in 60 Minutes or Less, their off-the-wall originals like Inhuman:A Festival of Undead Theater, or their licensed plays like Evil Dead: The Musical and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, you can always count on something unusual, if not always top-quality.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that for their latest opening we get the very commercial and G-rated Gilligan’s Island: The Musical. I admit that based on the title alone, my expectations were not high. But I am pleased to say that this was a rewarding and fun little change of pace for the company, and this reviewer is hoping that it’s a sign of good things to come for the company.

Based on the TV sitcom that ran from 1964 to 1967 and forever since in reruns, Gilligan’s Island: The Musical was composed in the early nineties by the TV show’s creator Sherwood Schwartz, along with his son Lloyd J. Schwartz, daughter Hope Juber and son-in-law (and Wings musician) Laurence Juber. It never quite made it to Broadway, but it has been more and more popular with regional groups throughout the 2000s (although to my knowledge, this is the first time it’s been performed in the Louisville area).

It’s an oddly structured show; the elder and younger Schwartz’s libretto has only the scantest of plots, consisting mainly of brief skits that set up the musical numbers. There is some silliness involving an alien visitor that seems to be the only recurring theme throughout. But the best and most memorable scenes seem to be the ones that stand alone.

The Jubers’ songs are cute, if not particularly memorable; unfortunately, the program doesn’t list the musical numbers and I can’t recall the title of a single one. The best comes early in the show, a cute duet between Mr. and Mrs. Howell. Plus, the TV show’s theme song is performed as the opening number, which sets up the nostalgia of the piece quite nicely.

The performances are a mixed bag; the actors are all quite talented but I think in a few cases miscast. Of course, it’s up to the director and his performers to decide to what extent a show like this should try to mimic the TV show it’s based on. But it seems to me that at least some effort should be made to try to emulate the iconic characters that every single person in the audience remembers.

To that end, the most successful performance in this production would have to be Dana Hope as Mary Ann. She looks and sounds so much like Dawn Wells it’s kind of uncanny; and while she is not a singer, she does manage to pull off her musical numbers with a Rex Harrison style of speak-singing through the higher notes.

Mera Corlett is fun as Ginger, giving the spoiled movie star a sultriness that would never have been dared in a sixties sitcom. Kenn Parks and Jenni Cochran are adorable as Mr. and Mrs. Howell, although Parks’ Jim Backus impersonation tends to come and go. Scott Goodman is quite good as the Professor, basically playing the straight man to all the silliness going on around him; and Alan Canon’s brief appearances as the Alien reminded me of another bit of classic TV: the Martians in the seventies miniseries The Martian Chronicles.

Aside from his plus-sized appearance, balding, dark-haired, bearded Ray Robinson looks and sounds nothing like blonde and clean-shaven Alan Hale Jr. in the role of the Skipper.  And while I’ve seen Robinson give some great performances, he seems miscast here; he just doesn’t seem to have the larger-than-life persona and booming voice the role calls for.

Daniel Land at first seems a good fit for the lead role of Gilligan; he is funny, and a very talented physical actor and dancer. Unfortunately, the character voice he chooses for Gilligan’s speaking voice is an absolutely terrible choice in the musical numbers. Yes, it’s a comedy, and yes, it works when he’s not singing; but this is a musical and the audience shouldn’t be forced to wince like fingernails down a chalkboard every time the leading man sings! He may want to revert to his real voice for the songs, is what I’m saying.

Tony Smith’s directing and choreography is quite serviceable and the show moves along nicely without any noticeable gaps or lulls, and his set design (with Scott Davis and Kenn Parks) is a nicely detailed rendering of the island setting, complete with opening and closing huts and a cave.  All of this is nicely served by a warm lighting and sound design by Jillian Spencer.

Over all this is a fun show, and one not to be missed by fans nostalgic for those seven stranded castaways and their ill-fated three-hour tour.

Gilligan’s Island: The Musical

Starring Alan Canon, Jenni Cochran, Mera Corlett, Dana Hope, Daniel Land, Scott Goodman, Kenn Parks and Ray Robinson.

May 25, 26, 31, and June 1, 2, 8, & 9, 2012 – All shows at 8pm

Tickets, Advance: $18 • General Admission: Student, Senior, Military $16
Day of Show: $20 General Admission; Senior, Military: $18; Student: $10 with valid current student ID at the box office
Season ticket eligible * Group Rates available

The Alley Theater

1205 East Washington Street, Suite 120
Louisville, KY 40206
Box Office Phone: 502-713-6178