It’s not your typical musical.
And that’s precisely why Who Wants Cake? Theatre is staging “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical” at The Ringwald in fashionable downtown Ferndale beginning March 28.
“We hadn’t officially done one as a company,” explained media director Joe Plambeck of the theater’s decision to schedule its first-ever musical. “And I think we wanted to do something that really fit our personality as a company.”
So a campy 21st-century update of a classic late 1970s porn movie seemed like the perfect vehicle to do just that. “It’s an untraditional musical, and we’d like to become an untraditional theater,” said Plambeck.
Some would say The Ringwald has already achieved that status. Since opening this past summer, the well-reviewed theater has already produced a risky and eclectic slate of shows, including at least two Detroit-area premieres. “I think we’re a little bit crazy,” Plambeck laughed. “We like to be a little bit ‘indie’ – but we also (do) some classic pieces from time to time. So I guess we’re a little bi-polar.”
What appealed to artistic director Joe Bailey, Plambeck said, was the musical’s “kitsch” value. “Some of the songs are very catchy. I like it a lot.”
Director Jamie Richards agrees. “I love the curiosity factor of it. I love that there’s a musical based on a porno. It’s so funny to see this porno movie turned into something sweet. I just love the idea behind it.”
The plot, Richards said, follows the movie rather closely. “It’s the story of a small town girl who wants to be a Dallas Cowgirl cheerleader, but since her parents won’t give her the money to go, she and her friends come up with a system of making money that initially starts out as just being jobs. But Debbie soon finds out that using her feminine assets can make the money quicker.”
It’s not a full-fledged musical, however, Richards said. “I think of it more as a play with music; a play with singing. It’s the type of show that people who don’t like musicals can come see and still love.”
It’s also not done with an orchestra or band. “The only way (groups) are allowed to do it is with a music track. So it’s like a karaoke musical, which was intriguing to me,” the director said.
Casting the lead role proved difficult. “Auditions were OK, but I definitely did NOT have a Debbie,” the director recalled.
Finally, at the very end of auditions, in walked Jessalyn Guizzotti. Armed with a degree in musical theater from Oakland University and recently returned from New York City, the Ohio native was perfect for the role. “She’s a gorgeous girl with a great personality,” Richards said. “And she could sing, she could read – and she’s got great boobs.”
“I knew it,” Guizzotti laughed. “I was going to say (that’s why I got the job), but I thought it might be inappropriate.”
Tackling the lead role hasn’t been easy for the trained actress. “It’s a challenge to act poorly intentionally, you know,” she chuckled. “It’s kind of hard to get that 1970s ‘I’m acting, but I’m not’ thing. Plus, you’ve got to play the double entendres and the innuendos and all that. It’s a journey. But it’s fun.”
One aspect of the production that is unique to The Ringwald is its unorthodox casting. When an actress had to leave the show recently because of health problems, Bailey stepped in to her role. “So now we have this tall and voluptuous Debbie, these petite other girls, and the delicious Joe Bailey playing Donna,” Richards said.
All three complimented Bailey on learning the show’s dance numbers virtually overnight. “It’s confusing: Every time I watch him I think it’s a girl. She’s really convincing. It makes me laugh,” Guizzotti said.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical’
Who Wants Cake? Theatre at The Ringwald, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Fri.-Mon., March 28-April 29. Tickets: $10-$20. Contains adult situations. For information: 248-556-8581 or http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com