Top Secret

Screenplay by Jim Abrahams, Martyn Burke, Jerry and David Zucker
Adapted for the stage by Joey Arena
Directed by Joey Arena and Todd Zeigler

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

How many times have we seen a movie become a play? Broadway is currently obsessed with this concept, it seems. I myself performed in an obscure movie-turned-play in college. The idea is simple:  Take a movie and thrust it on to stage with fingers crossed that people will recognize the title and be curious and familiar enough to buy a ticket. Add some light cues, pay some copyrights, and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a production. The Alley Theater has played with this concept many times over the recent years, transforming movies like The Princess Bride, Evil Dead and, for some reason, Point Break into full-on stage productions. Currently, the folks at the Alley are taking on Top Secret, a parody of spy and espionage movies as well as teeny bopper flicks of the ’60s written and directed by the Zucker Brothers – you know, the guys who made Airplane! and Naked Gun, which formed a genre of comedy smeared in the utmost silly goofiness? Director Joey Arena took this spoof and transferred the gags, puns and parody onto the stage in what he calls in his director’s notes a “unique piece of entertainment”; and right he was!

For those unfortunate to have never seen the movie starring a very young blonde Val Kilmer, do not fret because almost all jokes remain true to the movie as do style of costumes, blocking and even choreography. Yes, there is singing and dancing and it is in fact Kilmer’s voice. For those who are true fans of the movie and can quote every line uttered by Nick Rivers, Hillary and Nigel, there will be a few moments that might make you cringe. Notable scenes from the film that were classic pieces of comedic genius miss the cut on the way to the stage. Where The Alley Theater could have dressed their actors in a cow costume and staged some hilarious blocking, instead the audience was left to watch the scene on a screen with lines dubbed by off-stage actors. Another choice that fell short in its transference involves a scene where dialogue and movement are backwards. Although we hear and see the dialogue on film, incorporating live actors mouthing the words from a recorded track and moving backwards fails in comparison to what was considered cutting-edge for 1984.

Throughout the entire play, a screen flashes images from scenes from the Zucker Brothers film. As mentioned above, this sometimes hinders the performance; other times it is fully embraced and works beautifully. One scene that stands out involves the pivotal plan for a rescue mission:  The cast circles around Todd Ziegler as Nigel the ringleader who uses a stick to point out the actions. This scene has crafted timing and movement that utilizes the scene it corresponds with on the screen. Other cleverly timed scenes include a musical number involving the ensemble in a song about surf shooting as well as an underwater saloon fight. What make these scenes successful are the details placed to make each joke work – hook, line and sinker. This amount of care and attention matches the Zucker Brothers’ outlandish and oftentimes over-the-top spectacle in every scene.

The Alley Theater serves up the laughs with this show. Each cast member holds his or her own with dialogue rich in puns and one-liners. Riker Hill as Nick Rivers was particularly strong in the rock-and-roll numbers as he moved his hips and swiveled around the stage, as was his dry delivery of dialogue. Jamie Shannon as Hillary was a standout as Nick’s love interest; here is a comedic actress who definitely has a knack for timing. Todd Zeigler was a key player as well. Regardless if he was a background dancer for Nick Rivers or standing center stage wearing tattered island garb as Nigel, this is one dedicated actor. As for the rest of the cast, I extend many kudos for the exhausting costume changes, energy and devotion it takes to keep the jokes fresh as if saying them for the first time, a standard rule for actors one and all.

So in conclusion, even if you have never heard of the film by the Zucker brothers or if you know every line and can sing every word of “How silly can you get,” The Alley Theater has put together an entertaining rendition of a comedic classic.

Top Secret

May 17-June 1, 2013

The Alley Theater

1210s Franklin Street

Louisville, KY 40206