QUEEN FOR A DAY with music and lyrics by Linda Barnett, book by Chris Earle and Shari Hollett (April 30th Entertainment). At the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts (10268 Yonge). To October 7. $35-$59.50. 905-787-8811. See listings. Rating: NN
Queen For A Day was the hit reality show of its time. The 1940s-60s radio-then-TV phenom gave ordinary American women a shot at getting their dreams realized.
Now, a new musical inspired by that show is getting its world premiere. But instead of looking critically or satirically at a society that imagined that winning appliances and cars could produce happiness - or that exploiting hardship should provide entertainment - the show's content to wallow in gooey sentiment, vague feminism and bleeding-heart liberal do-goodism.
When we first meet her in 2010, senior Claribel Anderson (Denise Fergusson) is living a life out of Hoarders. She's alone, her hallways are blocked with clutter and her only visitor is Felicia (Camille Eanga-Selenge), an angry young woman grudgingly fulfilling her community service duties by helping to clean up Claribel's stuff.
Before you know it, the women are discussing the year 1953, when Claribel - then a young wife (Blythe Wilson) slaving away at a truck-stop diner - appeared on the TV show. From then on, the show lurches uneasily between the two eras.
Musically and dramatically, the earlier period is more inspiring, and Linda Barnett delivers some solid novelty songs, like one that celebrates male chauvinism and another about the rules for potential contestants on QFAD. The clever choreography of one funny group number set in the famed Coconut Grove goofily sends up the Latin obsession of the time.
It's a shame the rest of the show lacks that kind of humour, with Chris Earle and Shari Hollett's book plodding from one predictable plot point to the next, interspersed with a few earnest songs that constantly state what they're about and lack surprise.
Director Timothy French gives the ensemble lots of stage business and gets strong performances from Wilson, Lisa Horner (as a competitive diner waitress) and Alan Thicke as the TV show's smooth-talking host. Robert Yeretch is hilarious in a number of supporting roles.
But their talents are wasted in a show that has the potential to be so much better. The applause metre never goes very high.