BUMPERSTICKER: THE MUSICAL, a Toe Tapping Song Fest
Gary Stockdale and Spencer Green display great originality in their choices for topic to frame their musicals around. Bukowsical was their last effort, a toe tapping song fest about Charles Bukowski America’s ugliest poet. When they received a “cease and desist” letter from the lawyers representing Bukowski’s estate that threatened legal action, in a move that warmed the hearts of gadflies across this great nation of ours, they turned that correspondence into the show’s opening number.
With Bumpersticker the Musical, they again turn to a unique inspiration, the bumper stickers on display during a traffic jam on the 405 Freeway.
Part Haiku, part battle cry the bumper sticker has been around since the turn of the century. It began as a mini-mobile billboard for products back then. Paper and string contraptions known as “bumper signs” were attached to cars stopping at certain destinations like “Merrimac Caves” or “Mysterious Forest”.
With the 1952 presidential campaign between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, however, bumper stickers first became politicized and assumed the characteristics we know today.
Bumper stickers are like the flags, the “colors” that regiments once carried into battle with them, they were used to help the troops maintain cohesion, to aid them in identifying those who were fighting on their side.
This similarity between regimental colors and bumper stickers continues today, you have the armies of “I’m pro-choice and I vote”, and the brigades of “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.” And while they won’t venture forth onto battlefields today, they will brave Friday rush hour on the 10, which is no picnic.
The venue where Bumpersticker – The Musical is being presented during the Fringe is one of the rougher houses, which serves by mere contrast to polish the sleek, professional shine of this production to a near blinding glimmer.
Producer Michael Blaha, director and choreographer Michele Spears and musical director David O have staged the show with consummate skill, achieving a production look which could be transported to any London or New York stage without raising one eyebrow.
Now just like its fun to go to a musical where all the songs are familiar standards, here there’s no confusion as to the lyrics, because we all know the inspirations for the Stockdale\Green tunes.
“My Other Car is a Porsche”
“Well Behaved Women Don’t Make History”
“Honk if you Love Jesus.”
And my personal favorite, "I ♥______________”, you can fill in the blank
All the tunes are killer tunes, and the only problem song for me being was the ballad of Trucker Bill (Eliot Hochberg), and that isn’t because it’s a poorly written song.
The song, “Gas, Grass or Ass, Nobody Rides for Free” is turned into a modern folk tale of a trucker’s duel with a leggy hitchhiker (Lauren Rubin) whose victory is immortalized by her silhouette being placed on those tire flaps you see on most big wheelers.
The number is fun, but feels a tad derivative of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, the mega hit of the Charlie Daniels’ Band. It’s a silly quibble, but in a show that otherwise glows with originality it pops out more than it should.
The framing device is the assorted radio stations of the assorted drivers all played with great zest by Zachary Ford who puts forth the spectrum from KCRW to the “Eye in the Sky Guy.”
Lamont Dozier, Jr. wows the house with "I ♥______________”, and Jennifer Leigh Warren almost makes believers out of us all with her soulful rendering of the “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker, with a dashboard Jesus as her backup.
All the cast, those mentioned, as well as Anne Yatco, Jahmaul Bakare and Nadia Ahern are top of the line performers.
Hannah Beavers’ video design is the icing on a very, very tasty cake.
What is the foremost achievement here, as Emily Dickenson would describe it, is a truth told on a slant.
The range of opinions and attitudes expressed on the bumper stickers are a celebration of our diversity and a reminder of our strength as a nation.
Perhaps theirs is a unique perspective that comes from being LAers and spending so many hours on our freeway system.
There are yearly about 80,000 accidents on our freeways.
But look at the usage:
The 10: 363,000
The 405: 325,000
The 5: 299,000
That car volume daily!
That’s only three of our dozen plus freeways that cover 527 miles.
Notice sometime else about the above section?
The definite article.
Only in LA do we honor our system as “the 10”, “the 405”.
We know perhaps in our sun soaked souls that the freeway is the perfect metaphor for this nation. As long as we all play by the rules dictated by the system set in place to facilitate our travels, as long as we show the courtesy we expect others to show us, then we all can and will get to our chosen destinations.
Ending with the “Coexist” sticker we often sees stuck, Bumpersticker the Musical pokes fun at our tendency to view the world’s issues in black and white expressions capable of being fixed to our car’s rear, and in that sense it is also a paean for feeling optimistic about our country and humanity.
And a toe tapping paean at that.