For the latest entry in the popular UMPO (Unauthorized Musical Parody Of) series at Rockwell Table & Stage, creator, writer, and executive producer Kate Pazakis has taken on 10 Things I Hate About You, the fan-favorite 1990s rom-com starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. And I promise you’ll be more than just “whelmed” by this hilarious show. It seems with each production, the UMPO series is zeroing in more and more on what works for this format, and with sharper jokes than ever, this is maybe their strongest show yet.
10 Things I Hate About You is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Kat (Stephanie Renee Wall) and Bianca (Stella Kim) are sisters and polar opposites—Kat is jaded and sardonic and feared by many of her peers, while Bianca is the girl next door, a sweetheart who is the object of many people’s affection. Bianca desperately wants to be allowed to date, but their overprotective single father (Mathenee Treco) comes up with what he sees as a foolproof rule—Bianca can date when her sister dates. Cameron (Katie Self as a gender-swapped version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character from the film) is ecstatic to learn this news, and teams up with preppy jock Joey (Jason Michael Snow) to find Kat a love interest so that Cameron can have a shot with Bianca. They zero in on Patrick (AJ Mendoza), a mysterious bad boy who just might be the one person who can thaw Kat’s icy heart. Rounding out the cast for the parody is Ms. Perky (Lesley McKinnell), a guidance counselor at the high school who writes erotica in her spare time.
Naturally, many of the songs are straight out of the 90s, including “All Star” by Smash Mouth, “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, “I’m Only Happy When it Rains” by Garbage, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin, and “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne. And, of course, the iconic musical moments from the film, such as “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick and Patrick serenading Kat with a rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” are preserved.
Directed by Nathan Moore, the inside jokes that recur throughout the performance are the funniest part. Andrew Keegan, who played Joey in the movie, infamously tried to start his own religion in Venice Beach several years ago, so many references are made to Joey trying to run a “sex cult” at “an abandoned house with five identical air mattresses.” Similarly, because of cast size limitations, Gabrielle Union’s character is “played” by a cardboard cutout of the actress, accompanied by audio clips from the movie.
Rockwell regulars will recognize some cast members from previous shows. Mendoza, who has mastered the role of bad boy with a heart of gold, was in the cast of The Last Breakfast Club, and McKinnell, whose killer voice is always a highlight of any show she is a part of, has been in UMPO’s Clueless, Home Alone, and Jurassic Park. Snow and Treco are also recognizable faces, and Snow is a total scene-stealer here, leaning in to the ridiculousness of Joey Donner at every turn, puka shell necklace and all. But the rest of the cast is new to Rockwell, and they will surely be back for future shows. Wall in particular is a real find, and the way she flawlessly dealt with a mic issue opening weekend that straddled her with a handheld for an entire dance number quickly endeared the audience to her. The choreography (Mallory Butcher) is also more intricate than in previous UMPO offerings, showing the producers’ commitment to constantly upping the ante. So, put on your Skechers and your Prada backpack and get down to Rockwell, because this fun shot of 90s nostalgia is not to be missed.
The Unauthorized Musical Parody of 10 Things I Hate About You runs through May 12th 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 two hours, 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.