Health Nuts is a modest but fun slice of original theater. It’s the brainchild of Christine Power and Lindsay Wine, a local mother and daughter team. Over the past few months they’ve been rehearsing and producing their first stage musical, with a dozen actors, a live band, and about 30 people working behind the scenes.
It’s easy to see why the cast and crew got enthusiastic about the project. There are some very witty lines, addictive songs, and memorable characters. Although the production values are humble and the experience level of the talent is uneven, this is still an enjoyable show.
Fortunately, Nuts benefits from the involvement of some gifted individuals. Wine makes a strong impression as Gwen, a lovelorn lady who joins a gym to hang out with three disparate women. There’s JoAnne (played by Power), who has never met her soul mate. Claudia (Kain Cameron) is on husband number five and is more interested in cocktail hour than a workout. And bubbly Bonnie (Leslie Bogstad) is dim as a post but keeps the other girls going with her enthusiasm for all things fit-related.
The foursome are content to exercise in the dilapidated Health Nuts Gym, but a neighboring rival called Workout World threatens to put it out of business. Owner Roland (Will Lindsay) has to let his staff go and hire his cheaper, clumsier nephew Barrett (Brandon Joyner) instead. JoAnne, Claudia, Gwen, and Bonnie try to save the gym from foreclosure, while Roland brings in a new fitness trainer called Ricardo (Brian Bogstad, also directing) to drum up new members.
There’s plenty of scope for humor, with no fitness or diet gag left unexplored. Gwen “can’t wait to start hurting myself on purpose” in the gym. JoAnne’s ass is so big, she needs a larger saddle for her exercise bike. Claudia’s regime consists of pouring herself drinks, and Bonnie has a different kind of cupcake to take her mind off any problem.
The ensemble aren’t afraid to make fun of their own figures — their boobs, their butts, their legs, and their love lives. This seam of self-effacing humor really helps to make the whole play work. It’s also obvious how much fun the leads have with their characters — Leslie Bogstad bounces around the stage in a pink outfit, portraying an effervescent airhead; JoAnne’s two big criteria for a man are that he’s over five feet and under 80. Claudia usually has a cigarette in her hand. Gwen is a grumpy gym-phobe.
The production is elevated by some strong supporting cast members. Brian Bogstad brightens up the show whenever he appears, with more sparkling energy than a sugar-free Red Bull. Local theater mainstay and assistant director Brandon Joyner revels in his role as a nervous, gibbering youth, and Will Lindsay belies his lack of experience by being game for anything as Rolly Poly Roland.
Power seems the least comfortable on stage. She just isn’t as relaxed and believable as Wine, Cameron, or the Bogstads. In the opening number she’s hard to hear and she’s slow to respond to some of her cues. Later she warms up and handles her solos admirably. Doug Callahan’s performance is more exaggerated than anyone else’s, as if he’s in a different, broader comedy.
A moment when one character is left alone with no love in her life could be milked for more emotion. The Hispanic, Chinese, and gay stereotypes are a little too obvious. But Power and Wine have achieved a feat merely by getting this ambitious show running. Its memorable writing and acting, costumes (by Naomi Doddington), and music are added bonuses. Its themes of love and friendship make Health Nuts perfect for the Valentine’s period. As long as audiences don’t expect a Charleston Stage-sized production and make allowances for the less experienced performers, they’ll leave with their tails wagging.
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