Anybody who flies has a similar litany of horror stories, and the woes of the embattled hordes with their two carry-ons are now neatly compiled in the musical revue Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know, which is making its regional premiere at Quality Hill Playhouse. The songs and sketches of no fewer than thirteen writers and composers have a better than average success rate in their collective rant about the indignities we all have suffered.
J. Kent Barnhart, with an uncharacteristic five-o'clock shadow, takes his seat at the piano in a breezy Hawaiian shirt and introduces fellow passengers Lori Blalock, Teri Adams, Jim Korinke and Ken Remmert. Larc Edwards of the Kansas City Costume Company has dressed the show, and the wardrobe for the title song suggests that this crew has really been somewhere: Blalock to a spot below the equator (implied by her African-print dress) and her costars also to somewhere tropical, with lots of palm trees and pineapples.
Twenty songs later, when the troupe reminds us that "there's no place like home," it has grown clear that their vagabond shoes have seen better days. Whether detailing what it's like to be stuck in the abyss of a cruise ship's passenger talent show (as Blalock does in "Star Search") or how it feels to be on the receiving end of a good screw from a car rental agency, each cast member infuses the songs with his or her own distinct personality. It's reassuring that, however bad our trips have been, we're not alone.
"See It Now" urges the audience to get to Venice before it sinks completely or completely stinks. "Salzburg" warns travelers who might want to attend that city's Mozart festival that they will hear every note Wolfgang ever wrote and then some. "Aging Planes" offers some not-very-comforting news about rusty rivets that is capped -- once the passengers have experienced the unlikely event of a water landing -- by one of the funniest lines of the evening: how bobbing in the ocean on a raft would at least allow you to smoke.
Though not every jab makes a dent (for example, the travel-agent-as-Hollywood-agent number "Honey, Sweetie, Baby"), enough of them do to make Secrets worth booking. Among the best of these follies are "The French Song," which places Blalock in a Parisian cabaret delivering a sexy Gallic song while a stoic Adams translates it into something much more mundane, and Blalock's country-western tale "Please, Mr. Trailways, Take Me Away." Barnhart's trio of witty numbers is assisted by a series of souvenir hats better left in an attic.
It stands to reason that Atif Rome, in order to animate the performers' journeys, would need to embellish the rather blank slate that has been the Quality Hill set all season. To that end, he has constructed a salute to architecture around the globe, including a mini Eiffel Tower, half of a pagoda and an onion-bulb roof atop a Russian spire. The set provides snapshots of the man-made wonders of the world, while the show lays out photos of how so many things go wrong. To paraphrase New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams, incidents on my recent New York theater trip produced several "only in New York" moments (such as the sight of shock jock Howard Stern and three tall women -- hardly older than Britney Spears -- at a performance of Edward Albee's seriocomic The Play About the Baby).
A chance subway encounter with Tom Hewitt, Rocky Horror Show's Tony nominee, resulted in Hewitt's sending greetings to his Kansas City actor friends John Rensenhouse and Jan Rogge. Hewitt said he hadn't caught any other shows, noting that "on my day off, the last place I want to be is Times Square."
And if New York-bound theatergoers are thinking of seeing The Producers close up anytime soon, fuggeddaboudit. The first orchestra seats available as of last week were for February 2002. That would explain the revelry at the Producers table at Joe Allen's restaurant, where a pow-wow including three of the show's Tony nominees -- Matthew Broderick (with his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker), Cady Huffman and Roger Bart -- toasted their success well past midnight.