Is it possible that Peter Palmer is the only authority on Li'l Abner? Certainly no one has a greater claim to a proprietary interest in Al Capp's comic strip character. This time directing the show he starred in on Broadway and in the movies, a show he must know like the back of his hand, he brings a group of semi-
sionals to a delightful peak of their powers in a funny, sweet show.
The Crystal Playhouse Dinner Theater is a fairly comfortable barn, with decent sight lines.
If every character isn't "professional," there is more than enough here to please the theatergoer. Young people with great enthusiasm are featured in this show, and enthusiasm is what a show like Li'l Abner requires.
Palmer keeps their enthusiasm from being all the show is about, by demanding performances. Every character is as funny as can be, and their glee at being funny is infectious.
As Abner, our hero, Mike Mathews is born for the role, with biceps the size of Volkswagens, a goofy grin and huge feet. His scenes are always anchored by sincerity. He's not being ironic; no one here is, really.
His Daisy Mae, the truly beautiful Joy Nash, carries herself like a comic book heroine. The entire show's illusion of a comic book is carried off with bright colors, comical poses and brilliant backgrounds. For such a silly play, the sense is that everything was considered.
Mammy Yokum (Susie Natbony) nails every joke firmly in the breadbasket, as does the whole cast. Her Pappy (Alan Singleton) was a strong physical presence on stage as was Henry Berner as Available Jones. Michael Stramiello's Earthquake McGoon was a force of nature on stage, seeming to shake the floor with every step.
Mike Olian was Marryin' Sam incarnate, while John Crowley's deliciously bad Senator Phogbound, was mendaciousness itself.
The choreography mixed sham dancing (how actors who don't dance dance) and real dancing well. Every move on that stage was made for a purpose, and you knew they knew what it was.
Richard Coppinger was properly evil as the dastardly General Bullmoose, and Shelly Crescenzi was, well, stupefyin' as Stupefyin' Jones.
While there were a few flat voices here and there, you could almost convince yourself that that was part of the joke. This was not great theater, but great fun, and a real pleasure.