note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Timing is everything. In the case of Wesley Savick’s “Car Talk:The Musical,” which opened June 14 and making its world premiere at Central Square Theatre, it couldn’t be more prophetic or ideal. Savick’s comedy, which includes parodies of Broadway show tunes plus original music by prolific composer Michael Wartofsky, is inspired by the popular, longtime weekly NPR show, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, who are actually brothers Tom, 75, and Ray Magliozzi, 63. Ray Magliozzi owns and manages the Good News Garage Auto Repairs in Central Square, Cambridge, mere blocks away from the theater.
In Savick’s show, featuring voice-overs by Click & Clack, they’re the Wizard of “Cahs” (Cars), who decides to turn tables on its listeners and goes on strike.The Wizard, (a central puppet character operated by four unseen skilled puppeteers) takes phone calls, bleeping and blinking its headlights, flapping its front fender while giving advice to callers who dance around. Suddenly, the Wizard announces it’ll retire unless somebody can solve its puzzler.
Coincidentally, the Magliozzis shocked and dismayed their more than three million faithful listeners on June 8 when they announced they’re retiring after 25 years on the air at WBUR-FM. Instead, they’ll run syndicated, repackaged shows, where they offer advice about selecting and maintaining vehicles, social commentary and their self-effacing banter, on the 660 stations that carry their program. Their weekly column will also continue, as will their Web site, cartalk.com. And the garage-repair shop will remain in business.
Savick’s whimsical play is a feast for the call-in talk show’s fans. Besides boasting a fantastic Boston cast, the show is peppered with local references and inflection, local color, parodies and dream sequences. Music Director Scott Nicholas and musicians; set designer Susan Zeeman Rogers’ greasy, grimy garage; Seth Bodie’s costumes; Jeff Adelberg’s lighting and David Remedios’ authentic garage sounds add to the fun.
The plot revolves around Russell Delano “Rusty” Fenders, an overweight, always late, clueless 45-year-old divorcee whose world revolves around his Pride - a sputtering, ailing 1993 Kia.
Rusty is debilitated, dismayed, dysfunctional because his car crapped out at Dunkin’ Donuts, and he fears its demise. He has been sleeping with large, fuzzy car dice wrapped around his neck. In his dreams, he’s younger, thinner, dancing to parodies of songs like “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line,” “How Do You Solve a Problem Like my Kia,” from “The Sound of Music,” and “My Kia” (Maria), from “West Side Story”.
Reluctantly, he calls Sheila, his faithful, kindly, nurturing co-worker, who secretly loves him and always covers for him. He has been dreaming about his car, which had a heart attack, he tells her. “I’m an overweight, awkward guy in a studio apartment with a heart condition and a lousy job,” he laments. His wife took everything except his beloved pride and joy - the Kia- and now that’s dying out.
But Sheila, who’s Rusty’s primary cheerleader and supporter, gives him advice and something to live for, as he gratefully sings “Everything Might Be Looking Up”. Award-winning Leigh Barrett as steady, dependable Sheila B. Goodfew is sheer delight. Together, she and Scott H. Severance as Rusty are a joy to watch.
Their struggling romance takes a few detours as Rusty becomes derailed by Miata C. LaChassis, the sexy, sleek, vivid red car luring him away from his junky Kia and dependable Sheila. Tiffany Chen is vampy and spicy as Miata C. Chassis. Rusty can’t resist her sexy leather interior and curves. “I’m your Midlife Crisis,” she croons, with her two-girl posse. “Give up your Pride [Kia]...”
Earlier, three tough-looking mechanics advise him not to get rid of his car. They pop out of the pits, dancing with their super-long repair estimate. “Don’t go see the Wizard of Cars, whatever you do,” they warn.
And Rusty’s ruthless, lusty, wild-haired boss, Beulah Gasket (whom Maureen Keiller hilariously portrays) also warns him to stay away from the wizard. Her business is bustling since the Wizard announced it’s on strike. Suddenly, Rusty crumbles, clutching his heart, and is declared dead for 10 minutes, during which he endures another stirring dream sequence, beautifully choreographed by Michelle Chasse,’ with parodies of songs from “Annie,” “The Sound of Music,” “West Side Story,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Cats,” “Anything Goes,” and “Wicked”. Jonathan Luke Stevens as younger, slimmer Rusty is outstanding here. Rusty learns his condition is treatable, but he must consult the Wizard and deliver the puzzler solution to solve his dilemma.
The finale accelerates to a fun finish, with a revived Rusty wearing a Celtics’ green outfit and huge Volkswagen pendant, rapping out his newfound happiness with his Kia, Sheila, and her 1987 Skylark in “Two Cars are Better than One”.
BOX INFO: Musical comedy world premiere, book and lyrics by Director Wesley Savick, music by Michael Wartofsky, presented by Underground Railway Theater and Suffolk University, through August 12 at Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge: Wednesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets start at $20; senior, student, group discounts; student rush one hour before curtain, $20, with valid ID. Call 866-811-4111, visit the Box Office or online at CentralSquareTheater.org. Group information, call 617-576-9278, Ext. 210.