Stage Review: ICT's "Kid Brother" a rousing spoof

By Shirle Gottlieb, Correspondent, U-Entertainment

IT'S A NO-BRAINER. At a time when popular culture reigns supreme, when rock still rocks at the top of the charts, "The Wedding Crashers" sets box office records, and "Everybody (still) Loves Raymond" (in re-runs), "Jesus' Kid Brother" is guaranteed to be a rousing success. How can it miss? Produced with the high quality we've come to expect from International City Theatre, this screwball musical sitcom contains the same zany elements that audiences seem to crave in today's entertainment.

In spite of what you might imagine, "Jesus' Kid Brother" is not sacrilegious or disrespectful. It's a good-hearted spoof full of old-fashioned vaudeville shtick, burlesque tricks, and satirical musical numbers performed in a colorful campy style.

Written by Brian and Mark Karmelich (two San Pedro-born brothers who grew up as altar boys in a close-knit Catholic community), this rock musical asks the question: What if Jesus had an insecure kid brother who found it so tough to be a sibling of the Lord that he left home in search of his own identity?

In the skillful hands of seasoned director Jules Aaron, this fanciful scenario unfolds on Tom Buderwitz's imaginative set under J. Kent Inasy's brilliant light design. With Brian Murphy at the keyboard, a live on-stage rock band accompanies ICT's talented and well-rehearsed cast (outfitted in Shon LeBlanc's glitzy costumes) through a wide assortment of musical numbers choreographed by Brian Paul Mendoza.

Audience attention is captured from the very get-go when the ensemble belts out "It's Tough to Be a Jew in Biblical Times!" From that opening declaration, we follow the life of kid brother Larry (Joseph Sark), who with his best friend Barabbas (Christopher Dean Briant) tries to find himself in the Holy Land.

Larry's father Joseph (Jeffrey Landman) understands his problem all too well. It's equally hard to be Jesus' stepfather while his "real" Father is always watching from above. After giving it much thought, Joseph advises Larry to do three things: "Get a job, find a good woman and start a family."

Since Jews were forbidden to fraternize with Romans in troubled Biblical times, imagine the furor that erupts when Larry falls in love with Pontius Pilate's daughter, Mary (Kristen Beth Williams). Things get especially ticklish when Pilate (Scott Dreier) orders pretty Mary to marry his favorite muscle-bound gladiator (David Eldon).

In desperation, she sneaks away from her own wedding and hooks up with Larry, and then both of them run and hide in the Roman bathhouse. With his blood boiling, the jilted bridegroom follows in hot pursuit demanding revenge. No way will an insignificant little Jew get the best of this strong Roman warrior.

To tell the wild adventures of Larry and Mary, the chase escalates through a dozen more energetic rock 'n' roll routines. Of course there has to be a subplot (musicals ALWAYS have subplots!) In this fantasy it involves Destiny, Mary's kid sister (Elaine Loh), who has always felt neglected by Pontius Pilate, her famous father. While complaining to her mother (Pamela Holt), Destiny learns a deep dark secret that changes her life forever.

So what surprising bombshell will happen next? Do the love birds get caught? Does Larry get crucified? Does Stu reclaim his bride? Is Jesus really dead? Does war break out between the Romans and the Jews?

Since popular culture usually demands that musical comedies have happy endings, how will the Karmelich brothers end their rock 'n' roll Biblical fable? You'll just have to go to the Center Theater and find the answers for yourself.

Shirle Gottlieb is a Long Beach freelance writer.

(c) 2006 Long Beach Press Telegram

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