The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Dan Solomon, February 10, 2012, Arts


City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 569-6155
Through Feb. 11
Running time: 1 hr.

Say this for the Crank Collective's new musical, Antarctica: It doesn't ever pretend to be something it's not. The fact that it's a farcical piece of silliness with heaps of deliberate overacting, cheap-looking set-pieces, and characters who bear only the slightest resemblance to actual human beings is made clear the second the lights come up and the show's lead, Carl Guthrie, struts onstage singing a Vegas-tinged take on "Ice Ice Baby." Because the show's about Antarctica, get it?

There are so many winking, nudging "Get it?" moments that your ribs are likely to get sore from all the elbows the production shoves in 'em, but for the right audience, that stuff passes for fun. The plot is surprisingly complex for a 60-minute performance that features about a half-hour's worth of songs: On a cruise ship in the Antarctic, Guthrie's Max Shackleton, a weary, disheveled entertainer, is obsessed with his ancestor Ernest, who famously led a failed expedition to the frozen continent without losing a single crewman. Also on board are a pair of mad scientists (Cassidy Schiltz and Rob Faubion) who want to perform The Island of Dr. Moreau-style experiments on the ship's passengers. Max, meanwhile, simply wants to perform his epic one-man show about Ernest's expedition for them, if only his boss (Alexandra Russo) will let him.

If all that sounds overwhelmingly silly, well, that's what Antarctica aims for. The action is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, and the songs – while hard to distinguish from one another (they're not particularly hook-laden and mostly share the same tempo and overpowering vocal ensemble) – manage not to get in the way. Aside from a historical note about the real Ernest Shackleton in the program, there's not a single root in reality to grab onto here.

Instead, what Antarctica offers are the sort of setup/punch line jokes, situational gags, and groanworthy puns that make President Obama's spilled-milk zinger in his recent State of the Union address seem downright cutting-edge. This is a show in which the villain mugs for the audience and drops a genuine "mwah-hah-hah" laugh. Christian Huey as the ship's old sea-dog captain grouses about wanting a peg leg – but his HMO won't cover it. If that sort of gag is what you look for in an evening of musical theatre, then this show offers those charms. Audiences who can't handle the cheese, meanwhile, aren't likely to find a lot to appreciate in Antarctica.

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