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Theater Review: "Shout!" is a thing I can do without

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"Shout!" chronicles the liberation of women through the '60s and '70s through the music of the time. Courtesy photo

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I'm this close to giving up on jukebox musicals altogether. For one thing, the people who enjoy them - and those people are legion - do so for reasons that have nothing to do with theater criticism. I like nostalgia, too, which is why I have '80s songs on my iPod. Unlike fans of jukebox musicals, however, I like old songs more when they're performed by original artists than when local actors play dress-up and dance on a stage. I have no step-by-step rationale for my preference, other than to say Nancy Sinatra's version of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" is clearly better than anyone else's because a.) she's Nancy freakin' Sinatra and b.) she performed it first. So there's Nancy on my iPod, a few clicks away. I don't need an imitation, no matter how sincere.

Second, the people who write these disorganized revues are unqualified to write Broadway musicals. They obviously didn't write their own melodies; it turns out they can't write good material to string presold songs together, either. Not every working playwright is good at writing jokes. For Shout! The Mod Musical, it took two guys to write - and approve! - the line, "I tried snorting coke once, but the ice cubes went up me nostrils!" Now, if you think that qualifies as wit, felicitations, but you and I have vastly different senses of humor and the rest of this review will just annoy you. If, on the other hand, like actual comedians, you find that joke to be pure asinine hackery, then ask, as I did, why anyone would produce such a godawful script. The answer, of course, is the deep pockets of nostalgic Baby Boomers, which means jukebox musicals are both sloppy and mercenary. They make tons of money, of course, as most folks enjoy tapping their feet to songs they know and love; but we have this amazing new thing now called radio. You should totally check it out. It's free! You might even have it in your car already!

Tacoma Musical Playhouse's production of Shout! casts five triple threats. Last Saturday, Brynn Garrett earned praise for a powerful "To Sir With Love" despite high-pitched screeches from a coven of inebriated theatergoers. Heather Malroy's choreography is period appropriate, as are Bruce Haasl's groovy set and John Chenault's psychedelic lighting design, but the costumes (uncredited, so probably rented) are often unflattering. An accompanying trio sounds thin after recent TMP (and Harlequin) efforts.

Was there any good reason to rewrite the lyrics to "Goldfinger," or to wedge in a ham-handed reference to spousal abuse? Why feature the Isley Brothers' "Shout" in a song list devoted to British girl groups? Why call one character fat? Are these needlessly esoteric questions, or do they strike at the very question of what constitutes a quality show?

SHOUT! THE MOD MUSICAL, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Feb. 9, Tacoma Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $20-$29, 253.565.6867

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