You do not have to be familiar with the classic kid’s show Saved by the Bell, to admire its parody, Bayside! The Musical! You do, however, need to know it in order to truly love the mad antics going down four nights a week at Theatre 80 St. Marks. So, if you are not a child of the 90’s, consult the show’s extensive Wikipedia entry, or catch the Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, currently showing on the Lifetime network, then watch a couple old episodes on Netflix, specifically, the one about caffeine addiction, and the one about the duck.
Unlike the educationally challenged students of Bayside High, the cast and creative team behind this production, now entering its third year of off and on performances, are a group of dedicated over-achievers. Leading the fray is the writing team of Bob and Tobly McSmith. Their book is a hilarious panorama of raunch, homo-eroticism, dream sequences and modern satire, while their score pays tribute not only to 90’s power ballads, Meatloaf and the B52’s, but Alan Menken, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim as well. And lest you think that they’re a one trick pony, be advised that the duo is also guilty of creating Showgirls! The Musical!, and JonBenet! Murder Mystery Theater!
All the familiar SBTB characters are in attendance. Sam Harvey offers an understated performance as Zack, the popular boy on campus, and it’s a good choice given the over-the-top classmates surrounding him. These include Kelly, the sexy cheerleader (Katie Mebane), A.C., the jock who can’t shake his feelings for Zack (John Duff), Jessie, the caffeine-addled dancing scholar (April Kidwell), Screech, the nerd (Justin Cimino) and Lisa, the girl that doesn’t realize she’s black (Shamira Clark). Seth Blum, in a boggling series of costume changes, commands the stage with a series of foul-mouthed authority figures, and the charming Amanda Nicholas portrays both Becky the duck and Tori Spelling (again, this only makes sense to the well-initiated). Of this group, Screech is perhaps the trickiest role. His was such an odd TV persona that he is essentially beyond parody. Cimino wisely plays him true to form, effectively capturing the creepy charm. When he and Nicholas sing their mathematically enhanced romantic duet, Geeky Freaky Action, their pledge to “carry the one” holds a surprising warmth.
In a bit of stunt casting, Dustin Diamond, who, as a child actor, played Screech on the original series, currently appears here as the school janitor. It at first seems awkward, and a bit sad, with the cast paying tribute to him every time he pushes his broom across the stage. Then he is featured in a number where he repeatedly sings out, “I don’t give a fuck!” and suddenly everything is as it should be.
Halfway through the second act, the plot–an appropriately thin to begin with tale of saving the local burger joint–is abandoned all together in favor of a student beauty pageant which plays much more like a talent show. Here, the skilled cast gets to show off to full effect. Duff demos his impressive dance skills, Clark lets loose with a lively rap and Mebane literally flips out. But it is Kidwell who nearly steals the entire show with an extended, improvisational dance/film homage that can only be described as transcendent.
It is a night of nostalgia, for sure, for those who grew up with the show, but, for all who attend, there are two other bits of nostalgia worth keeping in mind. Theatre 80, the production’s home through at least December, has been around for eons. Frank Sinatra played there, as did John Coltrane. And secondly, Bayside recently partnered with the National Lampoon franchise (its name appearing above the title), which has allowed the production to go from three shows a week to five. The first time that National Lampoon got involved with New York theatre was more than 40 years ago, when they produced the off-Broadway show Lemmings. It was the production that introduced John Belushi and Chevy Chase to Manhattan audiences. Watching the new talent currently treading these boards, one wonders if it is not time for lightning to strike again.
Bayside! The Musical! – Written and directed by Bob and Tobly McSmith
WITH: Sam Harvey (Zack Morris), Katie Mebane (Kelly Kapowski), John Duff (A.C.
Slater), April Kidwell (Jessie Spano), Justin Cimino (Samuel “Screech” Powers), Shamira Clark (Lisa Turtle), Amanda Nicholas (Every Other Student atBayside), Seth Blum (Mr. Belding/Max), Dustin Diamond (Himself).
Choreography by Jason Wise; Scenic design by Bryan Hartlett; Lighting design by Adam Lash; Sound design by Lauren Vargas; Music director, Susan O’Dea. At Theatre 80, 80 St. Mark’s Place, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:00 PM Fridays at 7:30 PM and 10:00 PM, Saturdays at 8:00 PM.http://baysidethemusical.com, Running Time: 2 hours.