Topsy Turvy Review – A Musical Greek Vaudeville

Fazeelat Aslam, Molly Kirschenbaum, Mary Eileen O'Donnell, Jimmy Berry, Charlotte Hacke, Adam J. Jefferis, Adele Robbins, Mariana Jaccazio, and J. Claude Deering in TOPSY TURVY - Photo by Ashley Randall
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Written and directed by Artistic Director Tim Robbins, TOPSY TURVY makes its 2024 world premiere in Los Angeles. To quote Robbins, “I was thinking a lot about the Greek and Roman Gods during (the pandemic). What would Aphrodite feel about the divisiveness and the absence of love? What would Dionysus, the God of theater, think about forums and gathering places being shuttered, even in an emergency? I began writing TOPSY TURVY as a response to the seeming disintegration of community and the widening chasms between all of us that were exacerbated by the lack of human contact during lockdown. This turmoil was indeed the stuff of Greek tragedy and comedy; big events that challenge society and the citizenry’s demand for answers from the Gods.”

Megan Stogner, Luis Quintana, Chas Harvey, Willa Fossum, and Stephanie G. Galindo – Photo by Ashley Randall

TOPSY TURVY, subtitled “A Musical Greek Vaudeville,” lives up to Robbins’ creative expectations with an engaging, serio-comic, foray into the hybrid world of classical Greek theater combined with raucous vaudeville. After its debut in Los Angeles, TOPSY TURVY will premiere internationally at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Sibiu, Romania, launching this summer’s thirty-first festival on June 21 and 22, 2024.

Scott Harris, Luis Quintana, and Ayinde Howell – Photo by Ashley Randall

Let’s start the story with a Greek chorus of mortals shattered by a mysterious illness – more like a pandemic? What to do? Why not seek divine intervention to create more unity and restore the choral ability to sing as one? That’s where the Gods come in, including Vegas-inspired Bacchus (Scott Harris tripling as Onan and Dionysus) and Cupid (Luis Quintana), the Aztec goddess Coatlique (Stephanie Galindo), the biblical character Onan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite (Guebri Van Over). As if that Godly lineup might prove uninspiring (!), the audience is also treated to magicians, hypnotists, an acrobatic monkey, and, as Master of Ceremonies, the Great Distracto (Chas Harvey with assistance from practically everybody). Cast members were enthusiastic and intense, including Fazeelat Aslam (Constance), J. Claude Deering (Persnickety), Willa Fossum (multiple roles), Charlotte Hacke (Thalia), Ayinde Howell (Igneus), Mariana Jaccazio (Iris), Adam J. Jefferis (Cletus), Molly Kirschenbaum (Valiance), Mary Eileen O’Donnell (Olive), Adele Robbins (Amaryllis), Tip Scarry (Prior), and Megan Stogner (multiple roles).

Willa Fossum, Chas Harvey, Megan Stogner, and Ayinde Howell – Photo by Ashley Randall

To keep the beat going, Robbins wrote six original songs and brought in a pair of musicians (Milala Schmitz and Danica Pinner) and a 15-member chorus. David Robbins contributed guitar, percussion, and sound design. The production team clearly had fun (and headaches) prepping the very large theater space but succeeded remarkably well in blending shadow, light, and even fireworks courtesy of Cihan Sahin’s projection design.

Fazeelat Aslam, Molly Kirschenbaum, Mary Eileen O’Donnell, Jimmy Berry, and Charlotte Hacke – Photo by Ashley Randall

Clearly TOPSY TURVY is Robbins’ baby. As such, the show achieved multiple goals, including an intimate study of the pandemic and how it affected so many people so differently, the juxtaposition of comedy sitting astride tragedy, lots of unexpected and often explosive turnarounds, and a blend of styles, time periods, and costumes. This is a production which will leave Robbins’ fan base ecstatic (even if it is a bit long and overly wordy here and there). One thing is certain: TOPSY TURVY is exciting and involving. You’ll never be bored or tempted to take a quick nap.

Luis Quintana and Chas Harvey – Photo by Ashley Randall

TOPSY TURVEY runs through June 8, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays (Thursdays are Pay-What-You-Can at the door) and at 2 p.m. May 26 and June 2, 2024. The Actors’ Gang Theater is located at 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets are $38 (seniors and students $28). For information and reservations, call 310-838-4264 or go online.


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