Theater review by Alex Huntsberger
In 2002, when Hell in a Handbag premiered its loving musical parody of The Poseidon Adventure, that 1972 disaster flick was right in the sweet spot for nostalgia. Now that the film is pushing 50, its window as a pop-cultural touchstone has mostly closed. It’s not surprising, then, that the latest revival of Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical feels slightly past its prime. Like the feisty retiree played by Shelley Winters in the movie, it’s still brimming with vim and vigor. But although the show has solid bones, they’re starting to creak.
Playing a plucky group of survivors who must climb to the bottom of their capsized cruise ship in search of rescue, Poseidon!’s lovable performers rise to make the most of their situation. David Lipschutz’s renegade reverend Scott and Stevie Love’s glassy-eyed folk singer Nonnie are spectacular, and Tommy Bullington’s drag turn in the Winters role practically swims away with the evening. As the brassy ex-prostitute Linda Rogo, Elizabeth Lesinski delivers the hell out of the show’s standout number, the vampish “Just Panties.”
But even this cast can’t overcome David Cerda’s hokey script, which has aged less gracefully than Cerda and Scott Lamberty’s loony, melodic score. The show’s message remains compelling: The right movie at the right time can save a person’s life. Poseidon!’s framing device is a New Year’s Eve gathering of Poseidon Adventure megafans hosted by a woman named Toni (a luminous Caitlin Jackson); the origin story of her fandom has a bracing pathos. Less refreshing are the numerous NAMBLA-adjacent wisecracks peppered throughout the script, which are part and parcel of Poseidon!’s commitment to lo-fi, self-aware camp. Once the ship turns over—in a rollicking DIY sequence—the return on all those winks and nudges starts to diminish.
Some sloppiness in the staging adds to the trouble: Director Derek Van Barham scuttles several promising comedic bits, and spotty sound mixing sometimes buries the singers’ voices. Fans of the original film will love this show, as will fans of previous productions. But while Poseidon! hasn’t sunk yet, one gets the sense that this latest voyage may be its last.
Hell in a Handbag Productions at the Edge Theater. Book and lyrics by David Cerda. Music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty. Directed by Derek Van Barham. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.