Theater Review: The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Clueless at Rockwell Table & Stage

unnamedA few years ago, much earlier in the existence of the UMPO (Unauthorized Musical Parody Of) Series, they did a production of Clueless. Now, it is back in a new and much improved iteration starring the series’ talented stable of actors. Written by UMPO Series Executive Producer Kate Pazakis and directed by Jimmy Smagula, this 2018 Clueless is shorter, sweeter, and simpler, sharing only a song or two and the basic plot of the movie with its predecessor.

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Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

This Clueless has thankfully lost a clumsy framing device involving literal rabbit holes and friends reenacting the movie, and instead directly takes on the story of the 1995 teen classic. It has new 2018-appropriate references, such as nods to Stacey Dash, who played Dionne in the film, being a staunch Republican. The plot, of course, follows Cher Horowitz (Anna Grace Barlow), a well-meaning but ridiculously spoiled Beverly Hills teen. She enjoys meddling in the lives of those around her, setting up two of her teachers, Miss Geist (Lesley McKinnell) and Mr. Hall (Marquell Clayton) in order to improve her own grades and taking the awkward new girl, Tai (Natalie Lander) under her wing. Amidst all of this, she is dating Christian (Zack Colonna), oblivious to the fact that he is gay, and even more oblivious to her ex-stepbrother Josh (Matthew Bohrer), the better romantic option—even though the fact that their parents used to be married “for a hot sec” makes things a little weird, something this parody regularly points out. Meanwhile, Cher’s best friend Dionne (Janaya Mahealani Jones) and her girlfriend, Murray (Courtney Bruce, gender-swapped from the movie) tag along on her schemes while dealing with their own relationship drama.

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Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

What makes the UMPO Series so fun is how they combine poking fun at anything ridiculous about a beloved movie (and there was always something ridiculous in the 90s) with celebrating it. There is a good amount of 90s music in the song selections—”Let’s Talk About Sex,” “No Scrubs,” “Losing My Religion,” “MMMBop,” and more. More modern songs also make appearances, including “Friday” by Rebecca Black, which grew quite a laugh from an audience who had clearly forgotten about that song’s fifteen minutes of fame.

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Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

The best part of returning to these shows, which are presented in a style that’s a combination of a dinner cabaret and a fully staged production, is getting to know the talented group of actors the series continues to cultivate and seeing them take on different roles. Barlow previously appeared in The Last Breakfast Club and is perfectly cast as Cher, even bearing some physical resemblance to a young Alicia Silverstone. Her big moment comes at the end of act one, when she gets to belt out Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” Lander, who gets to play a fun character evolution as Tai, recently starred in both UMPO Bridesmaids and UMPO Home Alone. She is always a delight to watch, getting her big solo moment on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” here. McKinnell, who plays Cher’s rival Amber and the Horowitzes’ housekeeper in addition to Miss Geist, was fantastic in UMPO Home Alone and UMPO Jurassic Park and consistently has one of the very best voices in the company, stealing every scene she’s in.

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Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

With each production, it seems those behind the UMPO Series are growing more and more confident in what makes these shows so popular and effective. A mention of their take on Goonies being up next drew raucous applause from the crowd, and it is sure to be another guaranteed fun night out and showcase for some of LA’s strongest vocal talent.

The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Clueless runs through September 1st at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with an afternoon brunch show on Sundays. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased here. The running time is one hour and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Please note that Rockwell policy also requires a 2 item minimum purchase of food and/or drinks per person, and these items can be enjoyed during the performance. UMPO shows are often double cast, so the performers mentioned in this review will not appear on all dates. For more information about this show and upcoming shows, follow @umposeries on social media.

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