Raise the Titanic

Monkeying around with Saturday-night mainstay The Love Boat

Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents The Love Boat: Live on Stage!

ArtLoft Theatre, 1527 Washington Ave.

8 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May 17-25. Call 314-534-1111 for tickets, priced at $8; or call 314-361-5664 or visit www.stlshakespeare.org for more info.

Remember when Charo stowed away aboard the Pacific Princess? No? That's good -- it's probably best that you devote as little of your temporal lobe as possible to episodes of The Love Boat.

For two glorious weeks, though, Charo, Gopher, Doc, Julie, Isaac, Vicki and Captain Stubing invade the ArtLoft Theatre for The Love Boat: Live on Stage! The annual parody production from the Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, Love Boat uses cropped versions of the original teleplays to remind us just how unintentionally funny the show could be.

Director Donna Northcott and script doctor Mitch Herzog, the couple who also helm the St. Louis Shakespeare Company, chose two episodes of the Aaron Spelling show (which aired from 1977-86) and edited them for onstage resurrection.

The burning question is "Why?"

"It was just such an obvious choice," explains Northcott. "The idea behind the Monkey shows is [to choose] something that is so bad that it's unintentionally funny, and what really works well are shows that have not aged well. The Love Boat, despite the best efforts of Aaron Spelling, just hasn't held up well over time. There's the leering, the bad innuendoes and double-entendres, the pathetic acting, the guest stars who you're not really sure why they were stars to begin with because you never saw them anywhere except The Love Boat. It's just an agony to sit through the episodes."

The Monkey treatment of the show begins with a karaoke-style version of that famous theme song featuring a Jack Jones imitator. An Afro-wigged Isaac polishes martini glasses, Doc makes sleazy suggestions to the bikini-clad passengers and Captain Stubing gives orders in "bald wig, white Bermuda shorts and knee socks," reports Northcott.

The thrilling subplots include the aforementioned antics of Charo, Doc being forced into a sword duel with a "hotheaded Spaniard" over a woman and Gopher finding an unattended pile of cash. And yes, says Northcott, the evening would not be complete without references to the real-life drug problem that forced the actress portraying Julie to leave the show and be replaced by "Julie II."

When the troupe tackled Planet of the Apes two years ago, they honored Charlton Heston by selling Soylent Green cookies in the lobby. What will they be selling during the intermission for Love Boat? "Cocaine," deadpans the director.

MSMT will begin each show with onstage commercials for contemporaneous TV shows Charlie's Angels and Fantasy Island. Actors will spoof these other Spelling products by once again using original dialogue from the shows to make fun of their unintentional ridiculousness. The sendup of Charlie's Angels uses an episode actually called "Angels in Chains," which is all about the cheesecake. "Oh, they're in a women's prison," explains Northcott, wondering how the gals always managed to find themselves in predicaments aimed at an audience of cads. "Oh, they're undercover as professional cheerleaders. Oh, they're undercover as high-fashion models. Oh, they're undercover as prostitutes. They never seemed to be undercover, as, you know, cafeteria workers."

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