Theatre Information

Richmond Triangle Players Howard Crabtree’s Whoop-Dee-Doo!

By • Nov 19th, 2012 • Category: Reviews

Hey kids…let’s put on a show! If you are old enough to know what that means, then you are old enough to appreciate Richmond Triangle Players production of Howard Crabtree’s Whoop-Dee- Doo!; where you will indeed see Judy Garland – and perhaps could even see a Mickey Rooney – in drag! Whoop-Dee-Doo! is the prequel to another show RTP performed in 2001, When Pigs Fly. Whoop-Dee-Doo! consists of a variety of songs, sketches and 95 outrageous costumes. In another first for me, I will now attempt to review a musical revue.

For those who are not familiar with RTP, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary – their mission statement says they want to embrace a wide audience with a focus on works relevant to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. With a cast of nine men taking on both the male and female roles, they certainly attain this goal.

Howard Crabtree started his show business career as a dancer and costume designer. He eventually turned to designing musicals in 1990. He designed the costumes for and was the original star of Whoop-Dee-Doo! but succumbed to AIDS at the age of 41 in 1996.

Brian Baez plays the lead role of Howard Crabtree in RTP’s production. His performance is kind of a mix between Nathan Lane and the character of Cameron Tucker on TVs’ “Modern Family.” He is warm, affable, energetic and engaging. Timothy Goad portrays Crabtree’s arch nemesis in putting together a “low-budget musical revue.” He is truly believable as a bitter bitchy diva.

The remainder of the performers take on various roles (both male and female) in a variety of musical comedy sketches reminiscent of the old Carol Burnett show. There are flies that harmonize, Claude Rains and his invisible dancers (which was not much to see), a prospective musical about Nancy Reagan (including an Andrews Sisters type number with Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower), a dancing nose and of course a bunch of fruits and fairies (a dancing and singing banana and two truck driver-like fairies hanging out in a bar and cursing up a storm with Tinkerbell). Confused? Well that’s just a few of the 19 sketches. Director John Knapp and his team humorously updated some of the 1990′s original jokes to modern times with references to current pop culture icons like Oprah, Lady Gaga and Tim Tebow.

All the performers were capable and kept the show lively and moving at a fast pace. Among the stand outs for my friend Denise, who joined me for the evening, and myself were Dan Stackhouse in a touching and humorous number about being the “Last One Picked” back in PE class, and Kyle Cornell’s tribute to Elizabeth Taylor (he deserves an award just for being able to rattle off all the names of her husbands and her various married last names so quickly in verse). DJ Cummings youthful charm and great comic timing and facial expressions energized several numbers including one of the shows signature songs by a singing brain “I Was Born This Way.”

There are jokes throughout the show about it being a “low-budget show,” and indeed it was – but it worked. Thomas W. Hammond’s glitzy and glamorous yet tacky sets and costumes looked appropriately “amateurish” and he even proved he could make the cast look good in plastic table cloths. David White’s lighting design added to many of the scenes with hues of greens and blues that helped create the characters.

The theater itself, complete with a nice sized lobby and bar and cabaret style tables in parts of the audience, is perfectly designed for a cabaret style show such as this. The stage itself is small, and created some difficulties both in limiting Dennis Clark’s choreography, and in some difficulties with entrances and exits paged through the large curtain and with lavish headdresses getting stuck in doorways for the finale. There were also some problems with costumes of the bananas, potatoes and other dancing foods slipping over the performers faces. Hopefully these problems will be ironed out in the run of the show.

The finale had the feel of the finale in Rocky Horror with sad, self-evaluation and a floor show. The title of the final number, “Less Is More” however, really summed it up. Sometimes, keeping a show simple can leave the audience wanting more.

Director’s Notes

Back a number of years ago, I found the cast album for a little show called Howard Crabtree’s Whoop-Dee-Doo! I fell in love with it and have always imagined of seeing it on stage . Fast forward a couple of years, we got to see [a] Howard Crabtree extravaganza called When Pigs Fly and my love for Howard and music writers Mark Waldrop and Dick Gallagher was solidified-they write simply great, silly theater but with a social consciousness.

Howard Crabtree began his show business career as a dancer and moved on to costume design before trying his hand at musicals. He partnered with Mark Waldrop and Dick Gallagher for their first Off-Broadway show Whatnot in 1990. He designed and was the original star of of Whoop-Dee-Doo! which went on to win the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical Revue. When Howard succumbed to AIDS at the age of 41 in 1996, he had just finished When Pigs Fly but never lived to see its Off-Broadway opening, nor to receive its 1996 Outer Circle Critics Award for Best Musical Revue or Drama Desk Award for Best Off-Broadway musical.

Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly, with its cast of 5 and 70+ costumes became an RTP reality a decade ago and proved to be a huge hit both in our Fielden’s location and at the Barksdale Theater. But the size of Whoop-Dee-Doo! and the number of costumes was a bit daunting in those years at Fielden’s. Fast forward a few more years and RTP’s new space is a perfect fit for another of Howard’s deliberately ramshackle musical revues. We have chosen to do the complete original script, though some things have changed since its 1993 premiere. People came and people go; presidencies, first ladies and politics change but stay politically relevant; some people are simply starry-eyed and clueless.

I am very excited that Tom Hammond (recipient of the Phoebe Award for Best Costumes for RTP’s When Pigs Fly) is back on board to channel Howard’s silly energy in the design of our costumes. Without Tom’s designs, we’d just have a bunch of guys singing and dancing onstage. Where else can you see flies (singing an Andrew sisters-style love song), Polynesian natives (with a penchant for show tunes), a man with an oversized brain (nature vs. nurture debate over the origins of homosexuality) or a battle scene between meat and potatoes and fruit (a not-so subtle point about gays in the military)? I thank Tom for his brilliance.

Photo Gallery

The cast performs 'You're My Idol' The cast performs 'It's a Lovely Day for an Outing'
The cast performs ‘You’re My Idol’
The cast performs ‘It’s a Lovely Day for an Outing’
Brian Baez (center) as 'Mary, Queen of Scotch' along with couriers Stevie Rice and DJ Cummings
Brian Baez (center) as ‘Mary, Queen of Scotch’ along with couriers Stevie Rice and DJ Cummings

Photos by John MacLellan

The Cast

  • Brian Baez as Howard Crabtree
  • Matt Beyer
  • Daniel Cimo
  • Kyle Cornell
  • DJ Cummings
  • Timothy Goad
  • Thomas E. Nowlin
  • Stevie Rice
  • Dan Stackhouse

The Crew

  • Director: John Knapp
  • Musical Director: Tim Gillham
  • Choreographer: Dennis Clark
  • The Whoop-Dee-Doo Orchestra: Kim Fox
  • Managing Director: Philip Crosby
  • Stage Manager: Sophia Raven Shaw
  • Set and Costume Designer: Thomas W. Hammond
  • Lighting Design: David White

Disclaimer: Richmond Triangle Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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