What's best about The Bad Seedling, Late Night's latest cornholing of some dire old movie, is that, this time, Ron Megee's got her back.
The target is The Bad Seed, the '50s horror flick about a homicidal little girl. It's given much of the requisite Late Night treatment: cross-dressing, sight gags and lots of double-entendres so obvious that I could never figure out whether to laugh at the jokes themselves or laugh at having paid to hear them. Also typical is how, in the switch from stage to screen, many minor characters have developed a homosexuality so flamboyant and campy that, were the story depicted like this on network TV, GLAAD would be marching in the streets.
Fortunately, Megee's script doesn't rely on these Late Night standbys. He crafts chatty, lengthy scenes that build into set pieces generous enough for the entire cast to score laughs. Megee himself plays the bad seed, Rhoda, and is so hilariously apple-cheeked and innocent that we're almost disappointed when her evil manifests. Like Van Ausdal -- who is radiant here as Rhoda's oblivious mother -- Megee commands our attention every second he's onstage (especially when he roller skates). When the two are together, The Bad Seedling is utterly engaging. Also funny are Chris Wright as murder expert Reggie Trasker, whose eruptions of British nonsense (the I say, old chap! kind of thing) landmine key scenes, and Gary Campbell as fussy aunt Monica, always breezing through, sitcom-style, with impeccably scripted banalities.
And good Lord, the dresses are spectacular, especially on the boys.
Fun as The Bad Seedling is, I've been a little uncertain about Late Night's comic mission since that bitter Purple Rain. The troupe celebrates crap by mocking it, even as it feeds us its artistic beats; it allow us to indulge in crap's stupid pleasures even as we're reassured that we, KC's urbane sophisticates, are above it.
This seems like tricked-up nostalgia to me. Instead of finding refuge in a shared, passed culture, as earlier generations did, we Late Nighters demonstrate our wise-ass individuality by pissing on it. But really, beyond rote transgressiveness, is there much separating the comfortable pleasures of The Bad Seedling from the mainstream fare the Late Night crowd defines itself by shunning?
Footloose was in town last week, and I found myself curious. What is the nobler artistic calling: to revive a shitty movie ironically, as Late Night does, or to go the Broadway route with full earnestness of spirit?
So I hauled out to Starlight and ponied up for the story of the song-and-dance insurgency one young relativist dares to wage against an entrenched theocratic order. The show will be gone by the time anyone reads this, but, really, anyone likely to have gone to Footloose would have done so without prompting from us. That I'm the kind of guy who goes to see Footloose is still something I'm coming to terms with -- this is my second production in the space of a year. (In my defense, the first was put on by developmentally disabled adults at a community college. Curiously, I had an easier time roping friends into that one.)
And so, Footloose: rock and roll with its shirt tucked in. Everybody cuts loose, despite the efforts of Not John Lithgow; Not Kevin Bacon amusingly echoes our president by shouting, "If there's anything worth fighting for, it's freedom!" The new songs rub awkwardly against the godawful old ones, but the dancing is spirited, and Not Lithgow's third act conversion -- like Van Ausdal's ultimate Bad Seedling breakdown, marvelously written by Megee -- brushes against real human feeling.
Like Late Night, Footloose flatters its audience, selling it Top 40 revolution and passing off an idealized teen norm as somehow dangerous. We're all rebels, it tells us, but we're all good people, too. But as I sat there, my mind idling between the show itself and how much the Starlight stage resembles the Overland Park Kmart castle at 95th and Metcalf, it occurred to me how radical this tale of triumph over fundamentalist judgment might actually be. Yes, our hero supports designated drivers, tells his mother he loves her and is entirely unthreatening. When it comes to gender, Footloose colors inside the lines. To this culture, at least, nothing here challenges. But imagine the damage this boogie-for-freedom fluff might do unleashed in Tehran. Or Riyadh. Or those Olathe megachurches. I'd rather be at Late Night, but this uncampy camp might be the real dance, dance revolution, y'all.