A musical based on a whimsical town where the Lord seemingly placed a sack of fools to take up residence, much like the well known town of Chelm, but this town is under a man made longtime family feud curse. Such is the premise of Neil Simon’s “Musical Fools,” now in its run at the Atwater Village Theatre, presented by the Open Fist Theatre Co. Music and lyrics written by Phil Swann and Ron West, the show portrays this charming ensemble of fools, so convinced of their ‘own wisdom and good common sense,” and living in ignorant bliss. Enters the scene, Leon Tolchinsky, (Demetris Hartman, alternating with James Byous), who first thinks education is his highest priority, but then discovers that love is the most important thing in the world. He is a schoolmaster who comes to town, determined to educate the simpletons of Kulyenchikov. Unbeknownst to Leon, he encounters the lovely young maiden, Sophia (Claire Snodgrass), daughter of Dr Zubritsky (Bruce Green, alternating with Derek Manson) and Lenya (Robyn Roth). Sophia is angelic, both in looks, demeanor, and songbird voice. The ensemble works effortlessly to breathe spirit into this show. The stage comes to life, amidst a set adorned with colorful artwork. At show’s start a train swiftly passed from Moscow to Minsk to Kiev and Belarus and misses the stop where Leon must exit. He is told by the conductor, (Hank Jacobs), “we don’t stop, we slow down and you jump.” This is the intro to the town, where the residents proudly dance along the stage, led by magistrate (Beth Robbins) and accompanied by the music of the band: Jan Roper on keys; Adam Snow on drums; Ross Wright, Ryan Roberts, bass; and Matt Germaine, reeds/flute. The characters are a mix of Seussical like figures and Wizard of Oz munchkins. The shepherd (Parvesh Cheena) introduces himself as “counting sheep in my sleep, but always losing them.” They’re all proud of their stupidity, as they know no better, with plenty of idiosyncrasies and oxymorons, like the village butcher, a vegetarian and the village idiot, a librarian. The setting and characters also brings to mind the beloved stories of Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye the Milkman, the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. Leon comes to represent and counter the belief that every person is not worthy of knowledge, and vows to break the curse that can only be broken if a Zubritsky marries a Youskevitch. Count Gregor (Ben Greenberg, alternating with Jason Paige) is the only remaining descendent, and the mere mention of his name makes each village member tremble. The townspeople are “dumb as rocks and put shoes on before socks.” Leon plans to lift the cloud of ignorance and bring the sunlight of intelligence, all in a time span of 24 hours. As the sparks of his romance with Sophia kindle, the audience goes into wishful thinking mode. The music and lyrics, so cleverly contrived by Swann West, have a Sondheim-esque tone to them, each musical number outshining the previous. We’re simple people- we know not what we do” has such a catchy beat, you’ll find yourself humming upon leaving the theatre, the tell tale sign of a hit song. To escape a real world, fraught with worry and fear, come see “Musical Fools” filled with a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ vibe.
Through Nov. 17
Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 4pm, Mondays 8pm
Atwater Village Theatre 3269 Casitas Ave