The latest movie to receive the Rockwell Table & Stage parody treatment is Never Been Kissed, the 1999 romantic comedy about a late-blooming reporter who goes undercover at her old high school to research teenage culture and ends up having her own belated coming-of-age experience. While the beloved Unauthorized Musical Parody Of (UMPO) series departed Rockwell Table & Stage last year after a nearly five-year run, the new Rockwell Musical Parodies series has taken up the banner of providing humorous yet loving takes on fan-favorite films in the unique cabaret-style venue. Produced by E.K. Dagenfield, Pablo Rossil, and Jordan Ross-Schindler (also the writer) and directed by Rockwell veteran Emma Hunton, Never Been Kissed: The Unauthorized Musical is another fun production accentuated by a very talented cast.
Never Been Kissed follows the story of Josie Geller (Lana McKissack), a 25-year-old reporter who has never been in a relationship and has never really kissed a guy. One day, her editor assigns her to go undercover at her former high school to write an article that will help parents better understand their teenagers’ lives. The problem is, Josie’s first high school experience was a disaster—she was bullied constantly, and on her second go-around, she quickly falls into old habits and realizes popular girls are still the worst. Things start looking up when her jock brother, Rob (Matt Shively) enrolls as a student to help her gain social traction. There’s also Sam (Nathan Moore), Josie’s English teacher, and despite the fact that he believes her to be a teenager, an undeniable spark of attraction grows between them.
McKissack has held supporting roles in many shows at Rockwell over the years, and it is wonderful to see her take center stage here. As usual, the song selections are on point, and she kicks off the show with an impressive rendition of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know.” Moore exudes leading man confidence as he duets with her on “Wonderwall” by Oasis, and the ensemble takes on a variety of other popular songs ranging from Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” to “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths. Katie Self is awkwardly endearing as Aldys, the nerdy student who is at first the only person to welcome Josie with open arms, and Erron Crawford is hilarious as Guy, the popular jock who becomes quite taken with the mysterious new girl. Natalie Masini (always a scene-stealer), Amanda Shechtman, and Markesha Chatfield round out the cast as a trio of popular girls, with many of the actors doubling up to play multiple roles throughout the night.
As far as the parody treatment goes, this is a fairly straightforward take on the movie without many detours or added jokes, which these shows can occasionally do so well. For example, in the Unauthorized Musical Parody of 10 Things I Hate About You frequent references were made to Andrew Keegan, an actor from the movie, starting a sex cult in Venice Beach in real life. It feels like a bit of a missed opportunity especially since aspects of this movie have definitely not aged well. While Sam and Josie are in reality age-appropriate, he is an adult man in a position of authority who spends ninety percent of the film crushing on who he believes to be a high school student. This feels ripe for social commentary in 2020 but is just accepted as fact here. Rockwell does continue to find impressive ways to up the production value of their performances. One pre-recorded segment of Josie in the school bathroom that plays on video screens had the audience in stitches. Overall, this parody does not reinvent the wheel or dig very deep into the source material, but it still provides a thoroughly fun night out.
Never Been Kissed: The Unauthorized Musical runs through February 23rd at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz. The running time is about two hours, including one intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 1pm. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased here. 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.