By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The West Hollywood renters of pre-city 1983, who are aching to have their interests protected by a rent-control ordinance that could only be drafted by a city administration (that they're lobbying to create), have their interests challenged by the local chamber of commerce, employing the same ontological loops that are still painfully familiar: What's good for the renters is not necessarily good for business, and what's not good for business can't be good for the quality of life. Add to this the "threat" that the new city would be run by lesbians. Could there be a more horrifying prospect for the notoriously homophobic and Reaganomic Russian immigrants?
Among the show's many strengths are Kurup's taut and witty lyrics, which encapsulate a universe within a stanza: "The Russians hate the homos/The Christians hate the Jews/The homos hate the heteros/The zealots light the fuse/The seniors hate the youngsters/The youngsters hate the rich/The businessman just bides his time and profits from this bitch." (Echoes of Tom Lehrer's sarcastic "National Brotherhood Week"!)
Among the many interpersonal relationships, there is, of course, one crisis that anchors the story, which is a fictitious compilation of people and circumstances, based on research and Jacobson's having lived in West Hollywood for years. Debauched and bewildered Curly (Derek Manson, in a sharp and accomplished performance) is out on a drunken Halloween binge when the transsexual he's ostensibly protecting, Maria (Desiree Jade Sol), is struck by a car. Is it a hate crime, or an accident? Maria becomes the Mother Mary of the West Hollywood cityhood movement; hers is a death that could have been prevented if the unincorporated district had the services and protections that a city — particularly a city administered by gays — could have provided. The later obligatory death-by-AIDS of a character named Jesus (Richard Rocha) is really pushing the religious symbolism. And the resolution of what actually happened is overexplained at the end.
Yet the production is smart enough to wink at its flaws, at its shameless sentimentality and at the sometimes ridiculous artifice of musicals, partly with Sheetal Gandhi's mocking choreography. The banter — "It's a memory, it's a metaphor, it's a musical!" — sums up the creators' best defense.
Like a suppliant in a community church service, it asks forgiveness for its sins. Only an ogre wouldn't give that much back, in exchange for the purity of the service.
MAKING PARADISE: THE WEST HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL | Book by TOM JACOBSON, music by DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA, lyrics by SHISHIR KURUP | Presented by CORNERSTONE THEATER COMPANY at PLUMMER PARK, FIESTA HALL | 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. | Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 7. | (213) 250-1685