'In Living Color' is a nostalgic trip through TV history

The cast of 'In Living Color' recreates shows from an era of big change in television

Special to The TribuneNovember 1, 2012 

Television viewers of a certain age will get a kick out of “In Living Color,” a brand new musical comedy by Cambria resident Randall Schwalbe.

Set in the era when black-and-white television was giving way to color, it recalls an array of familiar shows and comically re-creates several of them on stage.

It opens with an “overture” of programs’ themes with titles and photos projected on a screen. The music, from shows such as “The Odd Couple,” “Bonanza,” “Bewitched,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” precedes the images and titles, so it’s fun to recall or guess ahead what program follows each theme.

The set represents two TV studios, one black and white, with the actors wearing black and white, performing against a gray backdrop. Armanda, the executive producer, played by Melanie Gruber, wears a black suit.

The backdrops are reversed to color when the action is in the color studio, where the characters, with colorful names like Cyan, Scarlet and Rusty, wear bright outfits. The producer, played by Bruce Staufenberg in a garish red suit, is Hugh (think hue). To make a long story short, Armanda and Hugh fall in love, out of love, and back in again, and black-and-white and color live happily ever after.

The studios are mounting shows, and the action opens with a funny scene from “The Honeymooners,” with Mike Shanley as Jackie Gleason and Angelo Procopio as Norton. All of the actors play members of the staffs of the studios as well as actors in the shows they are producing, so they get a chance to go from semi-serious to pretty hilarious. Lloyd Oksen, Thom Clifton, Mary Schwalbe, Dennis Del Bono, Amytra and Susan Hay play an array of characters. Cousin Itt, a hairy member of the Adams family, also makes an appearance.

The musical component includes singing commercials and popular songs that fit into the situations developing in the love story. The lively, costumed en semble sings the commercials.

Amytra is a kick in a solo moment as she sings the Meow Mix jingle. Gruber, as Armanda, has a lovely voice, and the ensemble has a fun trip with the group numbers.

The story, a satirical fantasy, drags a bit, especially in the first act when the plot is being set up and there are not many musical numbers. The changes in the set as the action moves from one studio to the other slow things down, and the love story is almost superfluous to the music and comedy. Although the acting is good, the show could have worked as a lively revue of TV shows, songs, and commercials of the era.

Highlights of the TV re-creations are a funny “Family Feud” contest between the Adams Family (in black and white) and the Munsters (in color) and an episode of “All in the Family” with Procopio as Archie and Susan Hay as Edith. Hay has a real knack for comedy and is a hoot throughout the show. A colorful, silly and funny enactment of Rowan and Martin includes the whole cast.

Schwalbe directs his play and Nancy Green is producer. Members of the studio orchestra are Schwalbe, Ron Perry, Jeff Mar, Mike Schimberg and Adam Vanweerdanpoelman. The sound system at the Cambria Center for the Arts has been upgraded, and each performer is amplified. Art VanRhyn and Procopio constructed the set.

In addition to the featured re-creations of episodes, names of the music and television stars of the era are sprinkled throughout the dialogue, so this show will be nostalgic for those who remember the years and the now classic TV programs that were so popular during the transition from black and white to color.

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