“Gilligan’s Island” first appeared on television in 1964. Created by Sherwood Schwartz, who also created “The Brady Bunch,” “Gilligan’s Island” ran for three years before being canceled by CBS due to a scheduling conflict. Unexpectedly, the show grew even more popular in re-runs, becoming a cultural landmark that eventually inspired three made-for-TV movies, two animated cartoon series, a reality TV show, and several documentaries. In the early
Way Off Broadway’s production of “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” is excellent fun appropriate for a wide range of ages.
Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, recognizing the appeal of the musical, is now staging the show at its venue in Frederick, Maryland. This reviewer attended a performance on a snowy evening in mid-January, and he is delighted to report that the show marvelously — and unseasonably! — captures the tropical warmth of the original series, while also embracing its good-humored and profound silliness. Joseph Waeyaert is outstanding as Gilligan. Waeyeart looks a bit like Bob Denver, the original actor who played Gilligan, but more importantly he emulates superbly both the physical and verbal mannerisms of Denver’s characterization. The actors portraying Mr. Howell, Mrs. Howell, and Mary Ann (played by Steve Stelle, Sarah Melinda, and Megan E. West, respectively) also do outstanding work, splendidly embodying these characters’ quirks, mannerisms, and voicings. The glamorous character of Ginger, ably played by Alexis Krey, appears to have been updated slightly to be more in keeping with the social norms of our own era, rather than those of the 1960s.
An unexpected standout is Patrick Ford, playing a new character, a space alien. Director Bill Kiska has made the unusual decision of casting a child actor for this role, but the gamble pays off handsomely. Ford’s short stature works well with the story, especially given that there is one song called “Bring on the Little Green Men”; however, Ford’s seriocomic delivery of his lines and crisp movements are really what make him so effective in his brief but important appearances. The song “Change your Ways [or You Are Doomed],” sung by the space alien and the Castaways alien to their desert island, is also quite memorable.
Unlike its television predecessor(s), the production is a musical. Thus, while the actions and spoken words of the characters are for the most part loving homages to elements found in the TV show, some of the songs allow the characters to express their feelings in ways not visible before. On television, the Howells, for example, usually got along well together, but their duet “I’ll Spend My Time with You,” wonderfully performed by Steve Stelle and Sara Melinda, conveys their love for each other in a way that is both touching and understated. The same is true of a duet between Gilligan and Mary Ann, “Things I Never Said.” This reviewer was also quite taken with “The Professor’s Lament,” a patter-song a bit in the Gilbert and Sullivan style compellingly sung by the Professor/Brandon Bedore. In it, the Professor expresses his internal frustration over a conundrum long discussed by fans of the show: how can a well-educated genius who is able to build fabulous devices from rough island materials not be able to repair a boat? Thus he sings:
What good is education, If it doesn’t end our isolation? I’ve studied every culture from ancient Greece to Thailand, Why can’t I get seven people off this island?!
The set design and props are simple but effective, reflecting the desert island minimalism of the original TV show. Music direction is engineered by Jordan B. Stockdale, who also plays the Skipper. The show uses recorded music in such a way as to highlight the vocal talents of the performers and complement, rather than overwhelm, their excellent singing. Even better, this arrangement allows the audience to easily hear the witty lyrics and banter that drive the show. The choreography by Dee Buchanan is similarly well done, accenting the physicality of the show in ways that feel fresh while remaining true to the original series on which it is based.
Way Off Broadway’s production of “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” is excellent fun appropriate for a wide range of ages. Those who remember the show fondly will enjoy the nostalgia aspect. However, there is also enough comedy, both physical and intellectual, for the show to be engaging in its own right, introducing the characters to a new generation. Not only did this reviewer thoroughly enjoy the show; so did his 10-year-old daughter, who had seen only one episode of the TV series yet thoroughly enjoyed the verbal repartee between Gilligan and Skipper.
Running Time: About 2 hours, including one intermission.
Advisory: The show contains comedic mildly suggestive themes, usually revolving around the seductive character of Ginger.
“Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” runs through March 9 at The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, located at 5 Willowdale Drive, Frederick, Maryland 21702. For more information click here.