How often in the world of theater do we see a good idea run into the ground in an effort to repeat earlier successes? What a nice surprise that For the Record creators Shane Scheel and Christopher Lloyd Bratten haven’t been playing it safe. With Boogie Nights, their newest micro-musical mashup, they have produced the most challenging and satisfying show in the series. This is also the first For the Record show since the wall at Rockwell: Table & Stage came down, unifying the cramped bar space where the performances had previously been staged with the larger dining room. More comfortable and with much better sightlines, the larger space is a huge improvement.
The Baz Luhrmann and Quentin Tarantino shows were filled with a sense of joy that transcended the tragedy and violence found in those filmmakers’ movies. With Paul Thomas Anderson, joy is in short supply. Contrary to the program, the show begins with the Harry Nilsson song “One” from Magnolia as we are introduced to the characters and their problems. We learn more about their predicaments through songs like Aimee Mann’s “Save Me” and Supertramp’s “The Logical Song.”
A brief dialogue scene bridges the lives of the oil prospector in There Will Be Blood with those of the pornographers in Boogie Nights. Though the musical numbers -- “Boogie Shoes,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “”Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” -- are a lot of fun, they mask a Greek tragedy: the rise and fall of supremely well endowed porn star Dirk Diggler (Derek Ferguson).
Thankfully, the show is filled with a rotating cast, all of whom perform so fearlessly that you almost forget how disturbing the material is. This is not to say that there isn’t fun to be had here. There is plenty of great singing and dancing, and audiences have the added pleasure of seeing this very attractive cast nearly naked.
Mr. Ferguson has just the right combination of charm and arrogance to be a convincing Diggler. Peter Porte, who plays Tom Cruise’s part in Magnolia and Burt Reynolds’ part in Boogie Nights, is totally convincing in both roles. Von Smith proves he has acting chops in addition to an amazing voice. Young Juliette Goglia, all of 16 years old, is amazingly confident as Roller Girl. There isn’t a weak link in the cast, and as always the band is amazing.
In hindsight, it seems as though the Coen Brothers show was a warm-up for the deeper and richer themes of Anderson’s films. Not only has For the Record cemented its position as one of the most entertaining shows in Los Angeles, it also has the distinction of being one of the most daring.