Singing. Dancing. Tits.
So runs the tagline for a new musical at New York’s Theater 80. And, based on this abbreviated synopsis, one of two things is certain: either the musical in question is a porno set to song, or it’s a parody. In fact, Bob and Tobly McSmith, the creators of Showgirls! The Musical, would tell you it’s both. Showgirls (the movie) is spectacular camp; every aspect of the film–from the characters to the plot line to the acting–is exaggerated and ridiculous. Take Nomi Malone (played by Elizabeth Berkley), a pole-licking, laser-eyed, tough girl stripper, who jerks her head like she’s been electrocuted anytime somebody asks her a question. Also, she’s topless for 90% of the movie. It’s what made the film a cult classic.
But how do you make something that’s already outrageous legitimately funny? Here’s the lowdown on creating the perfect parody from the McSmiths and their leading lady–Elizabeth Berkley doppelganger, April Kidwell.
“You can’t be a fanboy of what you’re parodying,” say the McSmiths. “If you love the source material too much or it’s too precious to you, it will be nearly impossible to give it the proper flogging it needs/deserves.” Kidwell says you can love the thing you’re parodying, but you can’t be “obsessed like the people who go to Star Trek conventions.”
Use the parody as an excuse to make fun of the entire decade: “the clothing, the political events, the actor’s career/personal failures, and anything that the audience won’t see coming.” Running concurrently to Showgirls! is a parody of Saved By the Bell. According to the writers, “in Bayside! The Musical! we reference Fresh Prince, Urkel, AIDS, and Trapper Keepers … in the first 10 minutes.”
Gorge Yourself on the Original (And, If Possible, Bear an Uncanny Resemblance to the Character You’re Spoofing)
Kidwell did not become a Vegas showgirl to get into the psyche of Nomi, but she did take stripper lessons, and she watched the movie approximately 50 times. “You need to understand the physical nuance of the character and the moments that make them lovable,” says Kidwell. Like Nomi throwing French Fries. “There’s physical rhythmic syncopation to that moment and parody, like comedy, has to do with timing.” Kidwell says she “got lucky” with her physical likeness to Elizabeth Berkley. (Her “Jessie Spano,” which she plays in Bayside! is frighteningly spaztastic. She is SO excited.)
The McSmiths contend that they’re just playing around with these shows. According to them, “there should be nothing serious or redeeming about your parody.” But Kidwell thinks differently. “A parody is a commentary,” she says. “It’s bigger than just “being” a character.” In this case, Kidwell’s message is about making nudity acceptable for mainstream comedic actors. “It was only recently that women could be topless in New York,” she says. “It’s lucky that my show went up after that law was passed. I can be naked and funny on stage and not get arrested.” Kidwell adds that “we’re all the same underneath and sometimes just jiggling around parts can be funny.”
“Thanks to 2 Live Crew’s courageous Supreme Court fight over sampling ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ in a song, there are laws in place to help protect your ‘art,'” say the McSmiths. (These guys can’t even say “art” without pumping snarky air quotes.) They caution that networks and movie companies can still try to shut down your project, so it’s handy to have a lawyer.
In sum, the McSmiths say that creating parody gold is about having “campy, dirty fun.” However, they caution parody makers to be ready for “dumb questions” such as, “What’s next? A musical about Schindler’s List!?” The duo says that this, in fact, is their next project.
Showgirls! The Musical and Bayside! The Musical run back-to-back on Fridays and Saturdays throughout December.