Christine Tringali-Nunes and Robbie Wayne in Desert Rose Playhouse's Mid-Century Moderns.

It’s such a pleasure to walk out of a theater smiling, still immersed in the energy of an entertaining, well-executed show—and such was the case with Desert Rose Playhouse’s latest production, the world premiere of Mid-Century Moderns, a new musical written, directed and co-produced by Mark Christopher.

Christopher has some impressive credits, including the feature film 54, starring Salma Hayek, set at New York’s Studio 54, as well as pilots for CBS, Fox, MTV, Sony and Warner Bros. He and his co-producer, Dan Gelfand, previously teamed up to create Real Life: The Musical for the Oprah Winfrey Network.

In Mid-Century Moderns, they have successfully channeled their love of 1960s pop music. The story centers around Maryann Popecky (Christine Tringali Nunes), a frustrated housewife in the midwest whose husband, Ernie (Gary Powers), has just passed away. It’s the early 1960s, and like many women of that era, Maryann is yearning to break free and find some excitement. Flush with a $25,000 Iife-insurance payout, Maryann hits the road in Ernie’s old car—and heads for Los Angeles.

Along the way, she hooks up with Tom (James Owens) at a bar, and he joins her on the journey. When their car breaks down in Palm Springs, they run into Mrs. Honeyhouse (Dana Adkins), who owns a small inn. Her hospitality comes in handy after Maryann loses her car, her money … and Tom.

The audience witnesses Maryann’s gradual transformation into a “modern” independent woman who embraces autonomy and finally goes after what she wants. Along the way, she lands a job at a design firm and begins a romance with Brewster (Robbie Wayne), a sophisticated, dapper big shot.

Mid-Century Moderns is a jukebox musical at its best. The show features some of the best pop tunes of the ’60s, including “It’s Not Unusual,” “Wild Thing,” “Somethin’ Stupid” and “Eso Beso.”

The production values here are top-notch, congratulations to technical director/audio/visual designer Nick Wass and lighting designer Mariah Pryor. The musical numbers are all superb; the balance between the actor’s voices and the recorded music was just right on opening night, and there were no microphone issues. The lighting and sound cues were sharp, and the many slides projected on the large on-stage screen set just the right tone. The set changes were quick—always accompanied by upbeat music—and the pacing could not have been better. Including intermission, the show comes in at a little under two hours, and leaves you wanting more at the end.

The cast is uniformly terrific. Many play dual roles, and there is not one weak link. Director Christopher has gathered a group of true pros who all sing and act well.

Opening the show with a bang is the phenomenal Carlos Garcia, who plays both Ricky and the Bartender. Garcia has impressive vocal pipes and dance moves, and enormous charisma onstage. He’s got a huge acting career ahead of him here in the valley.

As Maryann’s ill-fated husband, Ernie (and briefly as Miss Simpson), Gary Powers is wonderful. As ghost watching over his widow as she comes into her own—realizing he must let her go—he is both funny and touching.

James Owens is quite good as both Maryann’s fling, Tom, and later as Michael, half of a gay couple. He’s got one heck of a singing voice and strong acting skills.

The always-reliable Dana Adkins is simply hilarious as both Maryann’s dowdy Iowa pal and as Mrs. Honeyhouse.  There are moments when she steals the show. Her comic timing is flawless, and she, too, is a very strong singer. She gives us a genuine feeling of hope in “New World Coming,” and has the audience dancing in their seats with “I Know a Place.”

Desert Rose audiences are used to seeing Robbie Wayne bring the house down. He’s wonderful—but more understated here than he’s been in his recent roles in drag— as the wealthy, lovestruck Brewster. Wayne gets to let loose with his two big musical numbers, the Tom Jones classic “Help Yourself” and Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer.”

The standout here is clearly Christine Tringali-Nunes as Maryann. Her performances in other DRP productions have been strong, but this is a star turn. Petite and blonde with an adorable smile, she’s hard to take your eyes off of while she’s onstage. We root for her from the beginning. When she counters Tom’s possessive tendencies with “You Don’t Own Me,” the audience cheers.

Kudos also to choreographer Miss DD Starr, who appears briefly as a go-go dancer.

Staging the world premiere of a musical can be a risky proposition; in the words of Forrest Gump, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” With Mid-Century Moderns, Desert Rose Playhouse got a hit.

It’s a fun musical trip back to the 1960s well worth taking. You’ll enjoy every minute.

Mid-Century Moderns will be performed at 7 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, May 8, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 16. Tickets are $34 to $37; high-top tables (for four) or VIP couches (for two or three) are $175. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit desertroseplayhouse.org.

Bonnie Gilgallon

Bonnie Gilgallon, a theater reviewer for the Independent since 2013, is an award-winning stage actress and singer who performs at many venues around the valley. She also hosts “The Culture Corner,”...

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2 Comments

  1. Congratulations to the Desert Rose Playhouse, a wonderful cast, Mark Christopher & Dan Gelfand and the incredibly talented crew who consistently “make magic happen”. ❤️🌹
    Bill Kates
    Proud Volunteer at DRP

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