Stumbling Their Way Through JonBenet
On Christmas day, 1996, the bludgeoned and strangled body of six-year-old pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey was found in a basement room of her parents’ home in Boulder, Colorado. As horrific as this tragedy was at the time, now slightly less than three decades later, the fate of JonBenét has morphed into comedic tuner parody, conceived, scripted and helmed by Austen Fletcher, utilizing the melodies of such musical theater heavyweights as Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Cameron, Richard Rodgers and John Kander, punctuated by the satirical lyrics of Fletcher and Hannah Hartley. The resulting stage fare resembles an improv exercise in which a group of actors are asked to instantaneously create a musical, based on an absurdly inappropriate suggestion.
Over the course of 45 slipshod minutes, a ten-member ensemble stumbles its way through the Ramsey family’s adventures in bungled law enforcement and judicial ineptness. JonBenét Ramsey: The Musical proudly puts the blame for the girl’s demise on mom, Patsy Ramsey (Dana Shaw), who relishes every moment of her jaundiced celebrity status, in the same spirit as 1920s Chicago murderess Beaulah Annon (fictionalized as Roxie Hart in the musical, Chicago). The erratic on-stage machinations of the cast are made marginally viable by Shaw’s thoroughly committed portrayal of Patsy.
Vocally adroit Shaw takes over the production when Patsy Ramsey offers a musical survey of her life, effortlessly blasting through a medley of anthems—“Memory” (Cats), “I Dreamed a Dream” (Les Miserables) and “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” (Evita)—thematically repurposed by Fletcher and Hartley. Throughout the show, Shaw’s Patsy twinkles with manic glee at every turn in the proceedings that brings the attention back to her. Another highlight is provided by Andrew Diego, chewing up the stage as lunatic John Mark Karr who, in 2006, falsely confessed to the murder.
The rest of the ensemble actually look like they are uncomfortable, at times appearing as if they are painfully pulling dialogue out of the air. Brendon Derk and Michael Brian not only give new meaning to the concept of “inadequate counsel” as Patsy’s defense attorneys, they have to mouth obtuse dialogue that makes them appear to be anti-Semitic as well. As the crime scene cops, Mark Pietruszka, Lindsay Zana and Mary Rachel Gardner have the look of three lost souls who would rather be any place but on stage. This can also be said of Travis Dixon who portrays Patsy’s much put upon husband, John Ramsey. Where the ensemble, including Susan Huckle, does excel is in the zesty full-cast rendering of a parodied, “Master of the House” (Les Miserables).
This exercise in musical theater also features a brief appearance by well-known actor Chuy Bravo (Chelsea Handler’s sidekick on TV’s Chelsea Lately), portraying JonBenét. It is embarrassing for Chuy and unnecessary to the dubious dramatic arc of the show. Why do it? By the way, Cory “Reff” Rivera deserves kudos for his thoroughly professional turn as music director and keyboard accompanist.
JonBenét Ramsey: The Musical plays Friday, June 24 (10:30pm); Saturday, June 25 (4:30pm); and Sunday, June 26 (5:30pm); in Asylum @ McCadden Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Tickets available at: hollywoodfringe.org/projects/3765?tab=tickets