The Olio Theatre Works is back with a new version of its all-time favorite production — one that OTW first produced 10 years ago.
By adding music and lyrics to "Old Black Magic," Terra Taylor-Knudson and Lauren Nave have turned their Voodoo comedy into a high-spirited "Haunted Musical." (Get it? The double meaning of "spirit" is intended.) On stage this at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday, "Old Black Magic" is part of the Collaborative Series in the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre.
There's been a lot of press about this particular show, so we don't want to "beat a dead horse" (there we go again, more references to death); but it helps to know the precise setting of "Old Black Magic," so we're going to risk explaining where everything takes place. Once you know the locale, the things that develops make sense.
One additional note: Although it's a satirical comedy, with lots of slapstick and vaudevillian hi-jinx, there are serious lessons to be learned in the sub-text. (Shades of Dante's "Inferno.")
We're in Mississippi Bayou territory on a night when old Devil Moon rules the universe. It also helps to know from the get-go that all the characters are dead. Indeed, they were all true-life, historical celebrities who are trapped in limbo — each one caught in a time warp and can't leave until he/she resolves whatever troubles occurred during his/her lifetime.
Everything begins when Marie II (Chelsea Camille) roams through the audience inviting people to the Bayou St. John joint where her mother, Voodoo Queen Marie (Stephanie Thomas), will hold court. The Devil Moon is about to appear, so Queen Marie has one day to help her miserable captives resolve their problems. If they can't do it before dawn, they are doomed to another year in no-man's land; but if the Voodoo Queen is successful, they are free to move on.
"Eternal News Daily," the show's program, is so clever that many people fail to recognize what it is and don't take one. That's a big mistake because it names the characters, the actors who play them, and hints at the reason each one is in purgatory. Tim Thorn plays John Barrymore (former drunk actor and notorious womanizer), with the broad, over-the-top delivery he is know for. Even while dead, he tries to seduce young Caroline (JoAnna Hubbard), another stage-struck, Broadway baby.
John Sturgeon plays Edgar Allen Poe as the haunted, dark, insecure poet we all recognize. Lauren Nave plays Josie, the bitter madam of a notorious house that offers comfort to any lonely man who can afford it; and Terra Taylor-Knudson plays Jayne Mansfield, the sexy blond bombshell who was addicted to seeing her name in lights.
In addition, here are three notorious characters who might be unknown to the audience. Keep your eyes glued to this trio; they have chops.
The chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (Brianna Hill) became a "cause celeb" in 1906 when her husband (Cameron Moore) killed her former boyfriend (Derek Long). There's also Judy (Victoria Baker-Ferrigno), a waitress who was stabbed in the back for "supposedly stealing her best friend's boyfriend."
Put all these characters together under that old devil moon, and watch what happens. I don't know who's playing the piano off stage; but he's terrific. For tickets, go on line at www.oliotheatreworks.org.