I’ve Never Been So Happy, now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theater, is set in a small western town, where a peculiar set of characters has to choose between tradition and progress. The tagline for Thomas Graves and Lana Lesley’s play reads: “Should we accommodate developers of the land or the land’s spirit?”
The star of her father Brutus’s TV show, Annabellee (Meg Sullivan) feels trapped and wants to escape her dreary existence. Finally, Brutus (Lowell Bartholomee) gives her an opportunity: She will be free to explore the world if she agrees to marry the man of his choice, Jeremy (E. Jason Liebrecht), a young go-getter who has been exiled from his mother’s commune. Once together, Jeremy and Annabellee fight to rescue the land surrounding their small town from becoming a construction site with help from the last mountain lion in Texas and a couple of dachshunds named Sigmunda (Jenny Larson) and Sigried (Paul Soileau).
The beginning of the first act is rather slow and features so many songs that it gets tedious. The music in this play ranges from traditional gospel to death metal with an operatic aria, a hip-hop party mix, and a traditional country duet thrown in with little connection made between the genres. With little character development, the play can be difficult to follow, and while a screen is set up at the back of the stage to give supplementary imagery and context, I found it to be more distracting than helpful.
A Western-themed environment beautifully decorated with great attention to detail is set up for the audience to enjoy during intermission. Everyone received a map called “A little O’ Texas in Californiee-i-a” that listed activities and where to buy margaritas. The break proved to be a highlight of the night.
At the play’s end, I could not help feeling disappointed that the lack of a cohesive and engaging story proved to be a problem throughout. On the upside, E. Jason Liebrecht played the character of Jeremy with charisma and comedic charm. Many of the audience members seemed to have enjoyed themselves. And, despite the jarring changes in musical genres, some songs, including the hip-hop party mix, were enjoyable on their own. I’ve Never Been so Happy certainly isn’t mainstream, but there is a certain charm in the quirkiness of the production.
Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz