Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Review: ‘The Club’ defies gender roles and audience expectations – Los Angeles Loyolan.
Currently in the middle of its run in Barnelle Theatre on campus, the LMU theatre arts program’s production of “The Club” is a delightful interpretation of a gender-bending musical revue. It is well-cast and well-acted, and the vocal prowess on display is akin to a master class in voice.
“The Club” is something of a time capsule in that it captures the breathless excitement of the dawn of the 20th century in a very small, unique niche: the gentleman’s club. To lampoon the casual sexism of the times, writer Eve Merriam uses the unique trick of writing an all-male cast of characters to be played exclusively by actresses. The result is truly biting satire as well as pure entertainment.
The show owes much of its success to its core quartet of actresses: freshman theatre arts major Lissa Danshaw as Bertie, freshman theatre arts major Sarah Hegarty, junior music major MacKenzie Rae Campbell and senior theatre arts major Kelsey Hainlen. Danshaw is a wonder, using her operatic voice to full effect. She stuns with how talented she is at such an early stage of her LMU acting career. As Algy, Hegarty is given much of the dramatic legwork and pulls the despair off with aplomb. Campbell has the disadvantage of being the show’s de facto “antagonist,” Freddie, but is perhaps the most convincing in her gender swap. Hainlen, who was a standout in last semester’s Del Rey Players production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” is working effortlessly here. She is clearly an old pro and knows how to play a supporting role, such as her Bobby, with a deft hand.
The supporting cast is also strong, from senior theatre arts major Rose Mathews’ scene-stealing turn as Henry to the backing band’s delightful presence. But this show belongs to the leading ladies (as gentlemen), as well as the intense and artistically definite production design. Costume designer and theatre arts professor Gwynne Clark makes each actress look wonderfully male, and set designer senior theatre arts major Devin Kasper creates a fully realized vision of a window to our past as a country. The sound, however, is imperfect – just as many cues were hit as were missed. Whether this is the fault of the sound designers or the stage managers is unclear. It wasn’t enough to derail the production, but when the visual is so stunning and the production so professional, the aural hiccups are that much more pronounced and detrimental.
Overall, the show is an absolute delight and a feat of true production: Every detail is planned, and every moment, whether musical or not, sings. Director and theatre arts professor Mariclare Costello has a defined and truly fascinating vision of this show, and it is a grand credit to the actors that they can realize Costello’s artistic direction so fully. The show is small, no doubt, but it proves once again that bigger is not necessarily better – through the music and the dialogue, both fun and witty, there is a story to be told in the seemingly sparse hour-and-10-minute runtime. The cast and crew make every moment of that runtime pleasurable and true to Merriam’s original vision as well as Costello’s specific vision. This is a “Club” all will want to visit.