What does sometimes feel dated in this 1956 musical, adapted from the long-running comic strip by Al Capp set in mythical Dogpatch, U.S.A., is the cornpone humor (although admittedly it’s appropriate for the characters as conceived) and the general ignorance of the Dogpatch citizens. It’s harder and harder to find isolated yokels such as these in the age of the Internet. What doesn’t seem dated—and probably never will—are the satirical jabs at the way the government in Washington works. Some things never change.
Of course since Li’l Abner is derived from a comic strip, it’s only fitting that the costumes (by Dee Richards), the set (by Michael Newton-Brown) and the performances (by a larger than usual Golden Apple cast) feel cartoonish in coloring and tone. From the minute Abner (Matthew C. Scott), Daisy Mae (Heather Kopp) and Mammy and Pappy Yokum (Ellie Pattison and Bob Trisolini) step onstage, they immediately bring to mind the characters as drawn by Capp (at least for audience members of a certain age, since the strip ended in 1977).
Michael Bajjaly and cast of the Golden Apple's Li'l Abner.
The plot here involves Daisy Mae’s eternal attempts to land Abner as a husband in the traditional yearly Sadie Hawkins Day race. Complicating matters this year, however, is a government plan to move all the Dogpatch citizens away from their benighted hometown in order to test a bomb on the site. Seems there is nothing “necessary” enough in Dogpatch to preserve. Before long we’re meeting scientists and politicians (including Robert Turoff as the avaricious General Bullmoose) who may change forever the way Dogpatch sees itself. Will the town survive? And will Abner and Daisy Mae finally get hitched?
Li’l Abner tends to work best on the big country-spirited production numbers, like Jubilation T. Cornpone, the lampooning The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands, and Rag Off’n the Bush, when Dewayne Barrett’s choreography has the cast stepping lively to these Gene DePaul-Johnny Mercer tunes. But there are also good moments courtesy of the ever-spunky Pattison as bossy Mammy, Trisolini as boot-kicking Pappy, and Michael Bajjaly as the enterprising Marryin’ Sam. Heather Kopp is appealing as the buxom Daisy Mae, and Sevasty Antoniades has the right bimbo moves as General Bullmoose’s “assistant,” Appassionata Von Climax. As the title character, Scott looks the part, but he could punch up Abner’s signature traits (like his fear of commitment but overall upright nature) more than he does to maximize the comic effect.
Li’l Abner may appeal more to generations that remember Al Capp’s heyday than to younger ones that don’t. But as a seldom-presented show, it’s worth taking a peek for musical theater lovers. The production continues through April 4; for tickets call 366-5454 or go to thegoldenapple.com.