As a Musical, ‘Eating Raoul’ Goes Down Easier

Somewhere in the mid-1980s, as a high school student, I stumbled across a weird film called Eating Raoul during some Saturday late-night movie on some obscure cable channel. I knew nothing about it; I simply deduced that if it was on late at night, there must be something in it that my parents wouldn’t want me to see. Of course, I tuned in.

Eating Raoul tells a story about a very conservative married couple, Mary and Paul Bland, in Los Angeles. They are sick of living among the sexual degenerates that populate their apartment building but they don’t have enough money to move and start a business of their own. After Paul accidentally kills a man who was accosting Mary, the platonic couple devise a plan that will satisfy two of their dreams — they will lure swingers and other sexual deviants to their apartment and then kill them, keeping whatever money they are carrying with them.

This plan is more work than Mary and Paul bargained for. But when the apartment superintendent, Raoul, catches them, he joins their team with ideas of his own, and their plan becomes very profitable … until Raoul decides he would like Mary for his own.

The movie was a bizarre mish-mash of comedy, murder, and sexual deviance, and I just didn’t know how to take it. My high school mind appreciated it for what it was, but didn’t really like it. Ten years later, when I heard that a musical stage version had been developed, I ignored it.

Until I discovered that Egads Theatre Company was doing it this summer.

Egads Theatre Company used to be known as Eubank Productions, which made a name for itself in Kansas City for putting on surprisingly good productions of cult stage shows such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Rocky Horror Show, and of course, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. I decided that perhaps it was time for me to revisit the show; if director Steven Eubank could not get me to appreciate it, then it was truly dead to me.

The movie always seemed awkward to me, probably because it was such a campy, absurd story, but the actors all played it perfectly straight. But by turning it into a musical, the camp elements of the story were not only acknowledged, but celebrated, and the show has found a freedom and bounce that didn’t exist in the film. And Steven Eubank is a master of camp.

This production of Eating Raoul is a colorful, energetic, 1960s retro murder comedy. Between the killings are musical interludes that would make Austin Powers feel right at home. The props and costumes are just the right mixture of authenticity and caricature for the environment in which our square couple find themselves.

Molly Denninghoff plays Mary with the right elements of naïveté and repressed sexuality that causes such drama later in the play. Dana Nicholson portrays the passive-aggressive Paul with great empathy, and we can’t help but root for his stupid life to work itself out. And Francisco Villegas is pretty awesome as Raoul. Everything about him is over-the-top — from his sleazy nightclub act (with his backup singers, the Raoullettes) to his blatant flirting with the innocent Mary. Even his accent is thick and drippy enough to stick a fork in.

But the show succeeds not just because of the main three characters. There is an ensemble of dancers who fill in various small parts in the scenes. This group is a vital part of the show, providing some of the best performances and showstopping moments — Donna the Dominatrix and the man who played Ginger Rogers are highlights of the evening.

If you haven’t heard of Eating Raoul before now, I’m sure you have enough of an idea to decide if this show is for you. Fans of Eubank productions or campy weirdness should not hesitate to catch one of the shows this month.

Eating Raoul is playing at the Off Center Theatre at Crown Center through July 3. For tickets and information, call 816-842-9999 or visit http://www.

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