at the Black Tulip
The program describes Bombay Pete as a "light-hearted musical romp through the Brazilian jungle," and I can think of no more fitting word for this show than "romp." Originally written by June Pyskacek and Tony Zito in 1979, it was never produced. Now, in the quiet and elegant ambience of Roscoe Village's Black Tulip club, Bombay Pete is finally seeing the light, of day.
The plot is facile enough, though it borrows from such diverse sources as The Wizard of Oz, the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope "Road" movies, Shakespeare's The Tempest, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Indiana Jones adventure epics. Bombay Pete is a maverick pilot whose airplane crashes in the Amazon. While attempting to find his way out of the jungle, he meets with a group of anthropologists searching for an ancient Incan oracle who allegedly has the power to foresee the future. Soon thereafter the professor in charge of the expedition is dispatched by a sniper's poison dart, and Ms. Beasley is promptly--and eagerly--kidnapped by natives. This leaves Charles Ludington Lodge III to team up with the none-too-willing Pete.
These two reluctant partners encounter other people in the wilderness: Laurinda, a missionary's daughter who sings opera; Skin Head, a white-supremacist mercenary; and Ursula, a rock 'n' roll chanteuse looking for a band. Eventually, they find the oracle, who predicts a rosy future for all of them. And whatever one's goals, they agree, the only real meaning of life is love.
Fortunately, this flimsy plot is only an excuse for the music. Bombay Pete's score is a blend of rock-disco and show-biz fizz, with one obligatory rap song and a few token South American touches. The rhymes are worthy of Noel Coward: "I wouldn't mind bigamy / Not even with a pyg-a-my." Of the ten songs, you'll want to take home at least eight (and by the time this review sees print, there should be a tape available). The best are satirical. One of my favorites was "Boston," in which Ms. Beasley explains what drove her so far from home: "A city where it's Monday, night after night / The only way they ever get it up is uptight." The other was "Buddies," a delightful turnabout on male-bonding anthems. Charles declares, "In case a cheetah tried to eatcha, I'd smash him!" and adds under his breath, "Like fun!" To which Pete replies, "If some puma tried to doom ya--why, I'd thrash him!" then confides, "First I'd run!" There are also some nice love songs, considerably less sappy than most (with the exception of "Morning Comes," which is a showpiece for lyric soprano and nothing more). All are rendered professionally and enthusiastically by the cast and accompanied by the energetic piano of composer Zito.
Mark Rafael brings a casual charm to the role of Bombay Pete; he manages to be both funny and romantic at the same time. In this he is rivaled by Tim Douglas, who plays the gently intellectual Charles Ludington Lodge. Douglas also has one of the most caressing tenors to be heard in Chicago since John Herrera left town.
Kathleen Hall, as the ambitious Ursula, is also possessed of a clear, strong singing voice, as well as the kind of legs that make one wish the tiny stage were big enough for a few dance numbers. Ellen Yore, as the virginal Laurinda, is obviously too old for the part but projects enough ingenuousness to make the character believable, and her classically trained voice saves the otherwise boring "Morning Comes." Jay Pecora could be stronger as the all-purpose heavy, Skin Head--when a play has only one villain, he'd better be a big one. Strength is no problem for Bobbi Lynn Riley, who plays the forthright Ms. Beasley with just the right balance of humor and humanity. Danny Devine is appropriately versatile as the short-lived professor, as the wise but befuddled oracle, and as a large, noisy parrot.
This show has the makings of another The Fantasticks. It's funny, optimistic, topical, romantic, and tuneful--but it's going to run only until September 30, and the Tulip seats only 40 people. Go see it. With all the lugubrious "high" drama scheduled for this fall, Bombay Pete may be your last chance to relax and have fun.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard.