The 1956 musical Li'l Abneris sexist, racist, and, um, hillbillyist and politicianist (are those even words?), but because it's a good-hearted, equal-opportunity offender, it's also hilarious and tons of fun.
That's in part because of the wicked pen and fearlessly outrageous mind of Li'l Abner creator Al Capp, but also because of the playfully high-spirited rendition of the show by director Liz Onley-Waldorf's wonderfully chosen and coached cast and crew at Richey Suncoast Theatre through Sept. 27.
Li'l Abner is based on the 1934-1977 newspaper comic strip of the same name that made Abner, Daisy Mae, Mammy Yokum, Marryin' Sam, Eagle Eye Fleagle and their hometown Dogpatch household names.
What 1950s mom didn't, at one time or another, tell her kids, a la Mammy Yokum, "I have spoken," which means the subject at hand is closed? (Our family still jokes about inviting the boss over for "po'k chops and sweet talk.")
Indeed, many of the cultural references in the show may sail right over the heads of anyone age 40 or younger. But that doesn't mean they won't enjoy the show. The exuberant cast, led by Keith Surplus as a wide-eyed, naive Li'l Abner, Kristin Bram Broughton as a sweetly sexy Daisy Mae, Rick Stutzel as a charmingly pompous Marryin' Sam and Kathy Rhodes as an adorably imperious Mammy Yokum, create characters that are as appealing to kids as they are to grown-ups who remember the people and events Capp is skewering.
Sen. Jack S. Phogbound (Jim Laird), the pontificating, phony Southern politician, is as ubiquitous today as he was in 1953, when Capp created him.
When General Bullmoose (a terrific Drew Lundquist), the ruthless capitalist determined to get all the money in the world for himself, declares "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A.," nearly everyone can hear echoes of the time General Motors head Charles E. Wilson declare, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country," something poignant to hear 56 years later as GM flounders.
Even the town's hero, Civil War Gen. Jubilation T. Cornpone, is most revered for turning and running when the battle gets tough.
There's plenty more to enjoy in the 21/2-hour show.
Mark Lewis' dim-bulb Mayor Dan'l Dawgmeat is a hoot as he leads the cheers when told his town is going to be made into a nuclear bomb test site because it's been declared "totally useless;" Timothy Allen's double-steppin' Evil Eye Fleagle is gleefully evil; Kimberly Boon's Stupefying Jones is appropriately voluptuous; Star Verosic's Appassionata Von Climax just drips with self-serving sexiness; and Elizabeth Phillips's Moonbeam McSwine is sensuously captivating.
Very impressive is that all these players are able to maintain the challenging Dogpatch lingo and speech patterns, adding to the authenticity of their characters.
Costume designers Marie Skelton, Linda Hachmeister and Elizabeth Foote's patched and ragged outfits and washtub-sized wigs help Dogpatch husbands Zeke (Jeffrey Oles), Clem (Johnathan Santoni), Cy (Justin Buyea) and Luke (Micah Laird) create appealingly scruffy characters. Equally aided by the costumers are Lonesome Polecat (Chris Cavalier), the bounteously hirsute Hairless Joe (Peter Cleveland) and the whole slovenly Scragg family.
Music director Joan Geschke's eight-piece orchestra is filled with professional musicians who provide as fine an accompaniment as you would hear at a professional production in a large theater. Charlie Skelton's set design cleverly uses four turntables to change scenes without a pause.
If you go
Li'l Abner, a musical, at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey, weekends through Sept. 27. Shows are at 8 p.m., except Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 adults, $8 children. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and an hour before each performance. Call (727) 842-6777.