Minimum Wage: Blue Code Ringo
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
August 13, 2006
IT WORKS! Everything about this show works. Minimum Wage: Blue Code Ringo is definitely my pick as the most solid, clever, and engaging show of this year's Fringe. The vocals, the writing, the over-the-top-but-not-too-far performances, etc., all combine to create a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre. This show is, without question, capable of following in the footsteps of Avenue Q, Urinetown, and The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee.
This show reminds me why I go to the theatre, and also why I go early. The actors are out entertaining the audience long before the show starts. The concept is that the audience members are trainees at the Happy Burger fast food chain training center. Five employees from a Happy Burger restaurant teach us all we need to know, with numbers ranging from "Pesky French Fry" to "Shake Your Booty with Danger." The young nerd, the not-so-young nerd, the psychotic guy, etc., are all present, and each has a story to tell.
The writing is funny and outrageous without ever feeling as though the creators are pandering. In an unusual twist, they've worked diligently to keep the show at a PG-13 rating, quite useful for bringing in a larger audience. There's plenty of crude humor, but the double-entendre moments are carefully balanced with pop culture references, moments of sheer insanity, and the satirizing of everything from globalization to boy bands. They simultaneously skewer and honor Sci-fi, Trekkies, Barbara Streisand, role-playing games, fast food, and Shakespeare. There's even self-satirizing toilet humor in the form of toilet seat covers that transform an actor from a cowboy to Jesus to a woman. It's an impossible balance of silly and sincere, ridiculousness and earnestness.
Not only are the musical numbers (courtesy of the LaGreca Brothers and Sean Altman) funny, they are also excellent compositions, and they are performed a cappella with an astounding degree of musical talent. Even the choreography is wonderfully lively and silly, yet it's executed with a surprising degree of precision. These performers have been given great material with which to work, and they wind up part-Outkast, part-Sha-Na-Na, with a dash of Nine Inch Nails.
The Brothers LaGreca complement each other's talents quite well, but each is hysterical in his own way... the Smothers Brothers on speed and acid, if you will. William Caleo's bizarre geeky quality and his description of his love for the grill he calls Holly are painfully funny. (No, really.) Tony Daussat feels like a reincarnation of Belushi in all his glory, knowing just how far to push it and then taking one more step to prove he can get away with it. (Daussat's Kooky-the-Clown and Caleo's grill-love are equally likely to give me nightmares.) Suzanne Slade is pure heaven to watch. As the sole female in this group of misfits, she sells her character as both off beat vixen and commanding female-power presence. She too has the knack for pushing it over the line and getting away with it. As for Charlie LaGreca's beat-boxing, I'd pay just to hear his final number. Kudos to all of the performers for functioning as an ensemble and for allowing prop malfunctions to actually improve the performance rather than distract from it.
Jeff LaGreca's direction is fast paced and effective; it grabs the audience and keeps the momentum throughout the show. The video clips are great and blend well with both the sound and lighting.
There is so much talent at work in so many different ways that I could easily go on for much longer. Suffice it to say, this show deserves a chance at an extended run. (When Spelling Bee finally closes, that space would be perfect for this show and these performers.) I'd call it "good clean fun," but the grease people and the psychotic french fry puppet would come and take me away.