In the realm of hateful, horrible '80s movie villains, Velda Plendor is up there with Hans Gruber from Die Hard and Charles Lee Ray, the criminally insane man whose vengeful spirit possessed little Andy's Good Guy doll, in Child's Play. Except that Gruber wanted the money from Nakatomi Plaza and Chucky wanted a human form to inhabit — Velda, the ruthless overlord of the Wilderness Girls organization in 1989's Troop Beverly Hills, just really hated privileged tweens from tony neighborhoods, to the extent that she'd maroon them in the woods and leave them to die. She also slaughtered, ate and wore the gutted pelt of a skunk as an act of revenge. Sick stuff.
Wearing a comically oversized gym coach's whistle and a green beret pinned to his blond wig, comedian Drew Droege plays the Velda role with gusto in Rockwell Table & Stage's latest escapist confection, The Unauthorized Musical Parody of “Troop Beverly Hills” (running through Sept. 10).
“It’s my favorite thing to do, playing the villains and the nightmares,” Droege said in a recent phone interview. “The stakes are Girl Scouts and cookies and she’s this epic, evil character. I love to play horrible people with no power whatsoever.”
Droege also played the Miranda Priestly character in the recent five-month run of the theater's The Devil Wears Prada parody — “It was a dream come true, to do Meryl Streep doing Anna Wintour” — but he's probably best known for the series of web videos in which he impersonates Chloë Sevigny; he's been making those since 2010. The Sevigny character he's created has less to do with the actress herself and more to do with his vision of what it means to exist in perpetuity as a vapid, indie It-girl. “I really like her as an actor, but I try to avoid her now,” he says. “It’s so much more fun to be this sort of alien offshoot — it is her, but not her.” (He just completed a new batch of videos last week.)
His depiction of Velda— played onscreen by Betty Thomas — is more on the nose. Having a man play an overtly masculine female character isn't the most original gag, but Droege takes it to its comedic limits, indignantly spitting obscenities and making jokes that probably would've been inappropriate for a PG-13 kids movie. (Although the film's Velda did get to call her daughter and the rest of the Red Feathers “little bitches” on at least one occasion, and really loudly.)
Continuing the tradition of turning cult classics into “unauthorized” musicals, Rockwell's Troop Beverly Hills — written by Kate Pazakis and Ray Wetmore, directed by Tye Blue and Gregory Nabours — makes musical numbers out of era-appropriate pop songs that cleverly propel the popular movie's plot. We meet Phyllis Nefler (extremely talented Broadway actress Marla Mindelle) and company as they sing and dance along to Madonna's “Material Girl,” and Phyllis and Freddy's marital woes are examined to the tune of a Paula Abdul medley of “Cold Hearted” and “Straight Up.” Poor Chica Barnfell (Lindsay Pearce) sings a sapphic rendition of Heart's “Alone” when her parents notoriously abandon her on her birthday for a trip to Monte Carlo.
The show riffs on the story's goofier aspects, but ultimately it's parody presented for an audience that has enough of an emotional attachment to the film to see a stage version over brunch or dinner.
Several members of the talented ensemble pull double duty, including Pearce, who also plays Freddy's new girlfriend, and Droege, who also plays troop-member Claire's horny romance-novelist mother. And besides the signing, dancing and acting, the setting requires the actors to use their improv skills. There's no stage, only a small catwalk jutting into a room full of tables where people who've been encouraged to use their phones as promotional devices are eating hamburgers and drinking beers.
Every inch of the room becomes part of the set. Near the end of the show, when Velda's broken her ankle during the jamboree, Droege finds himself positioned on the bar wailing to the rafters. Somewhere in L.A., Betty Thomas' ears tingled, I'm sure of it.
Rockwell Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont, Los Feliz; Thu., Sat. & Sun. through Sept. 10; $22-$49. (323) 669-1550, rockwell-la.com.
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