Shangri-La!, at the Dorothy Nickle Performing Arts Center, and Rock Star, at the Dorothy Nickle Performing Arts Center. The 1960s girl group the Shangri-Las sang songs heavy with sentiment and melodrama: consider the audible motorcycle crash in “Leader of the Pack.” So perhaps it’s fitting that David-Matthew Barnes’s Shangri-La! is a simplistic, contrived piece of theater, not much more than a lame excuse to string together Shangri-Las tunes.
In the first act, five teens hope to win a talent contest by lip-synching to the Shangri-Las. An uninspired cast can’t overcome the one-dimensional characters or superficial script, but the actresses are fun to watch in the many song-and-dance numbers (well choreographed by Barnes). These take the place of any substantive plot development, however, and that lack of depth becomes painfully evident in act two. The five daughters of the first act’s friends, meeting for a funeral, prove just as flat as their mothers. They “catch up” through bickering and admissions of their flaws, which are already obvious, only sporadically offering support to their mourning friend. This group only lip-synchs once, but other Shangri-Las songs are played in full, forming an aural backdrop for the dull, tenuously linked action onstage.
The late-night Rock Star, also written by Barnes, is just as bad. This puerile play could be judged the worse of the two, but it does benefit from some capable acting. Jennifer Faletto finds something real in the obviously drawn Victoria, a newcomer to LA surrounded by sleazy or vapid fame seekers, a few of whom are decently portrayed by Andrea Lahti, Dan Ramberg, Katie Carey, Amanda Krupman, and Kelly Belmont. However, there are 15 characters in this mindless, unfocused 85-minute play. None of Barnes’s multiple plots is particularly original, but the show truly implodes when he kills off one interesting character and effectively abandons his narrative. The actors perform in the dark or near dark and pay no attention to the set (they enter a hotel room through one door and leave through the bathroom). The lip-synching numbers are too gratuitous to distract from Rock Star’s glaring problems.