Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical, Hell in a Handbag Productions, at the Theatre Building Chicago. The ultimate disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure is a dizzying mix of good and bad. Example: Shelley Winters transcends her role as a walking fat joke in a death scene that would make Nurse Ratched weep. Then Ernest Borgnine delivers her epitaph: "You had a lot of guts, lady." (Sound of screenwriter missing own pun.) "A lot of guts." The film would send itself up even absent its audacious Exodus-meets-the Inferno allegory. Throw in gloriously 70s production values and a one-track plot with the momentum of a freight train, and you've got a text that screams for the camp/drag/musical treatment perfected by Sweetback Productions--from which most of the Handbag company hails--before its split into warring camps.
For this, the splinter crew's maiden voyage, almost everything seems in place. David Cerda and Scott Lamberty's songs are droll creations that spring naturally from the original dialogue and tell-don't-show dynamic, and the singing (Ed Jones's intentionally hilarious turn as Carol Lynley excepted) is excellent. Cerda's smart, funny script teases out the source's delights and atrocities, both obvious and subtle, with loving care. Under the direction of David Zak the individual portrayals are strong, with Michael Miller, Tracy Repep, and Jennifer Connelly leading the way. All that's lacking is the edge that made last year's The Birds so striking--perhaps marooned with Sweetback captain Kelly Anchors.