Live Review: Jersey Shore the Musical at Studio BE
Talk about a recipe for disaster. Take a show (Jersey Shore) that falls into an over-parodied genre (reality television) put out by a network no one has taken seriously in 20 years (MTV) and lampoon it in one of the most go-to ways possible (the musical version of something that shouldn’t be a musical; about as original in Chicago as getting drunk at a Cubs game). What do you get? Surprisingly, a well-rounded piece of storefront theatre that’s better than it has any right to be.
Jersey Shore has been ripe for the mocking since its debut in 2009. The loud, over-the-top Garden State twentysomethings did exactly as the folks at MTV hoped: barged their way into America’s collective consciousness, bringing their blown-out hairstyles, thick accents and obnoxious catchphrases with them. For two years now, it’s been “t-shirt time!”
Already the subject of SNL sketches and YouTube send-ups galore, one would think attempting yet another jab at the show would be unwise. Hasn’t most of what can be said already been said? Not according to the folks at 4 Days Late Productions, who use Jersey Shore: The Musical as a means to explore themes larger than "the Situation"’s abs. The pursuit of fame for fame’s sake, the consequences of shallow living and the inescapable eventuality of humdrum life all underlie the goofy costumes and bouncy music of this 90-minute trip.
In the same way Crispin Glover gave Back to the Future its soul, Nate Stoner, cross-dressing as Kardashian-wannabe Angelina, is the supporting character who gives depth to this otherwise light romp. (Ironically, for once, the drag queen keeps the campiness in check instead of epitomizing it.) The Faustian scenes between Angelina and the Producer—a running thread that deserves more visitations—break up the pace stylistically and emotionally, a welcome cut-away to something more real.
One thing this show has over many Chicago sketch-generated musicals is that nearly all the actors can actually sing. It’s no Marriott, but it’s refreshing to hear a dozen full voices when the common practice is to find an excuse for the same two players to carry every number. The original songs, with titles like “Deeper Than My Tan” and “I’m Gonna Kick Your Ass,” are both funny and catchy, thanks to composition by Matt Griffo, Alex Myerchin and Jason Lord.
The story feels a bit abbreviated at 90 minutes—it could easily be made into a full two acts, with the first being the show and the second being the fictionalized aftermath. But as it stands, Jersey Shore: The Musical leaves its audience with much the same feeling as its namesake does pop-culture vultures: fist-pumping for more of that G.T.L. train wreck.
Jersey Shore: The Musical runs Fri and Sat at 7:30pm through Sept 10 at Studio BE, 3110 N Sheffield Ave.