IF YOU GO
BONITA SPRINGS — Southwest Florida satirists Rick Compton and Betsy Bennett debuted the latest version of their old-age show "Assisted Living: The Musical" at the Elks Lodge of Bonita Springs Friday. A 250-person crowd devoured the jokes with all the fervor of a newly besotted senior rushing to refill a Viagra prescription.
The show has been extensively re-written from the form that played months of sold-out dates at Fred's Diner in 2009. Bouncy tune "Everything Is Swell Again in Pelican Roost" now opens the show as "Assisted Living" follows a troop of visitors on their visit through the fictional Pelican Roost facility (or as the kids say, "Pelican's Last Roost!").
While obviously settling into form - the cast and creative team just finished molding the latest version in New York days ago - the show whips by like a jet-powered HoverRound. After all the effort, the program finally resembles what Compton and Bennett set out to write more than three years ago - a musical that can be performed by anyone (while they collect the royalties). Oh, and it still makes people laugh till their pacemakers ping, their wheelchairs wobble and their cataracts crinkle.
In the revamp, a third person - fast-fingered piano player Dominique R. Scott for this run - joins the duo on the stage, freeing Compton up from his usual keyboard duties. The simple move to put two people in front of the audience changes the entire dynamic of the show and expands the range of choreography options, costume changes and staging decisions - all for the better.
Taking Compton from behind the keyboard proves the show's biggest leap forward. His take on "I Got The Lost My Dentures On Steak Night Blues," complete with a icy cool pair of Blues Brothers sunglasses, brings hoots of laughter. So does a slightly revised "A Ton-and-a-Half of Cadillac Steel," an ode to older drivers, where he uses a stool as an impromptu steering wheel. And his leering take on TV lawyers "Have you been injured but don't remember? Not a problem!" is not to be missed.
Bennett, always the more active ham of the duo, throws herself into the various characters with glee. Realtor/resident Naomi Lipshitz Yahmamoto Murphy brings down the house with her tales from the condo wars - anyone up for a quick "fromage a trois" in the kitchen? "My Hide" ("lift it up, cut it off, tuck it up! My hide!") remains a reliable comedic piece in her hands, as does "Tattoo On My Butt."
Some re-arranged elements reflect the sure hand of director Bill Castellino, who's spent years crafting revues and just opened "Jolson at the Winter Garden!" in Jupiter. The zippy "Pelican Roost" opener replaces low-key parody "Key Lime Pie" and fairly leaps off the stage. Fan favorite "The Viagra Medley" remains though (now near the front of the show), as well as a fresh take on "These Halls Are Made For Walkers."
Pacing changes - courtesy more prominent comedic interludes - help the audience catch its breath over the course of the 90-minute show. Whereas "Assisted Living" used to press the accelerator like a senior on a scooter late for bingo, it now measures out the laughs like pills in a weekly organizer. While the first half might need tightening - only seven songs in 45 minutes, compared to 11 in the second half - the show feels far more organic than the previous "collection of funny stuff" it used to resemble.
One change that doesn't work so well - love-in-cyberspace ballad "WalkerDude@MySpace.com" - which gets new pseudo-sapphic lyrics that might take getting used to. Suburban warfare piece "The Owners Association" feels out-of-place in the show, while new duet "My Hair" will provide an opportunity for choreographers to work their magic.
Brand-new song "Pills, Pals and Pension Checks," the penultimate number - stands out though - and seems well on its way to joining "Going to the Chapel and Gonna Get Buried" as one of the duo's standards.
Perhaps the best move? Changing "The Saga of Room 109," a tragi-comic story of residents battling for a choice suite, to a spoken-word piece instead of a song. Bennett now "reads" the sad tale to an audience who hangs on every word, supplying the "oohs" and "ahhs" like schoolchildren at storytime.
The latest "Assisted Living: The Musical" represents a quantum leap forward from the show Compton & Bennett debuted two years ago in a diner on Immokalee Road. That show, though it roared with laughter, needed a walker just to get across the room. This version - tighter, funnier and carrying a full oxygen tank - might just be sprinting toward the lights of Broadway.
I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly. E-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.