This is a review unlike any I’ve ever done on this blog before. This is a review for something that’s…good! Genuinely very good! As such, my usual mocking style is not going to work for this review.
One common misconception that people have around this blog is that I hate Saved by the Bell. And it’s an easy misconception to have. After all, my influence for this blog is Billy Superstar of Full House Reviewed, who absolutely hates the show he reviewed and says he never wants to see an episode of it again.
Let me make this very clear: I do not hate Saved by the Bell (well, except for The New Class; it sucks ass). In fact, I have a strong affection for Saved by the Bell. It’s one of those series that is so bad, it’s good. And, if you’re not able to mock this series at least as much as I do on a weekly basis, you are missing out on half the fun of watching it!
Imagine my delight when I found out that an off-Broadway unauthorized musical parody of Saved by the Bell existed. I first learned of Bayside: The Musical when I started the Twitter feed for this blog, and was looking for accounts to add. I was intrigued by the musical itself, but the fact that it plays in New York City was a problem for me logistically. But I knew I eventually wanted to review it as part of this blog.
So, when the writers and directors of Bayside contacted me and invited me to come see them perform, I knew I had to find a way. And so, in June, I traveled to New York City to see Bayside performed at Theater 80 in Manhattan.
The night that I saw Bayside happened to be their one hundredth performance. Supported largely by word of mouth, Bayside, against all odds, has become an underground hit in the off-Broadway world, with even Perez Hilton and The New York Times lavishing praise on it.
In addition, the cast of Saved by the Bell is slowly trickling in to see the production. Bayside has been visited by Dustin Diamond, Dennis Haskins, and Pat O’Brien, all of whom loved the experience. Leanna Creel is set to visit this weekend, and Mario Lopez has expressed interest in seeing the show. They hope eventually to have more of the cast visit and even, as a stretch goal, would love to host Hayley Mills.
Bayside finds its genesis in writers and directors Bob and Tobly McSmith. Bob and Tobly have been watching Saved by the Bell since they were kids. One night, they were watching an episode and came up with the idea for a musical parody. They wrote a script and performed it to sold out crowds and received rave revues. Though they’re very proud of these early days, they are glad to no longer be in small fifty seater venues without air conditioning.
What the McSmiths have come up with today is something truly magical. I’m not typically a fan of musical theater. I just don’t get the appeal, say, of seeing Les Miserables with random songs spliced in (I am open to conversion if someone can explain the appeal to me). But comedy musicals are an exception for me, and Bayside ranks up there with the best of them. It’s like Avenue Q came along, met Saved by the Bell, and had a beautiful love child that brings the best of both worlds to the table.
Bob and Tobly have an incredible knowledge and understanding not only of this show but also of Good Morning, Miss Bliss and The College Years. Through this knowledge they are able to incorporate an incredible number of references to the show, so many so that I lost track. And through it all, I found myself laughing hysterically. This musical is just this good.
The plot, if you can call it that, is ripped from “Save the Max.” The gang discovers that The Max is about to be repossessed. In order to save The Max from closing, they have to raise a staggering $500. Along the way, they engage in plots from the entire run of he show in an effort to raise money
Methods the gang use to try and raise the money include Screech’s spaghetti sauce (the secret ingredient is his semen!), holding a prom with the theme “Under the Apartheid,” getting jobs at the Malibu Sands Beach Club, and a beauty pageant that Slater and Screech naturally enter (because beauty pageants are great ways to make money!).
If you’ve been reading this blog or you’ve seen much of Saved by the Bell, this will all sound familiar. What makes it amazing is the great writing and talented, stellar cast who are playing completely exaggerated versions of the characters they are playing. But, damn, you could seriously reboot the show with this cast. They’re that damned good.
Zack Morris is played by Sam Harvey as a narcissistic, ego-maniac whose ruling instinct is to get Kelly back from the college boy who stole her from him. As in the show, Zack Morris is the central character and frequently delivers monologues to remind us what’s going on, though, in Bayside, they’re, of course, very exaggerated.
Kelly (normally played by Katie Mebane but Caitlin Claessens was substituting the night I was there) is a horribly dumb girl with an ever-increasing number of siblings in her family. She’s played as very sexually promiscuous and, by the end of the show, it’s implied that she’s pregnant.
Slater (John Duff) is, of course, the narcissistic wrestling jock, wearing a singlet through every scene except the Malibu Sands scene. He is nominally dating Jessie but it’s clear that he’s a closeted homosexual and completely in love with Zack Morris. By the end of the show, he’s even in a rainbow singlet.
Jessie (Adriana Spencer) is still the smart one in school, but the running gag throughout the episode is, naturally, her caffeine pill addiction. The exaggeration of “Jessie’s Song” is perfect, with Jessie chugging pills by the handful and, at one point, spitting them mercilessly into the audience. Spencer is to be commended for an amazing performance that I doubt Elizabeth Berkley herself could have topped. She evokes the unintentional humor of “Jessie’s Song” in such a way that she has, very much, been etched in my mind as the most memorable part of the production.
Lisa (Shamira Clark) is still the fashion queen. She perhaps has the least to do in the show, but this doesn’t stop her scenes from being hilarious. She deals with the fact that she’s the only African-American student at Bayside and the fact that no one even realizes that she’s black until someone points it out. And, of course, there’s the subplot about Screech wanting to bone her.
Screech (Justin Cimino) not only has Dustin Diamond down to a “T.” Besides his spaghetti sauce, Screech’s main conflict is over whether to date Lisa, who doesn’t want to date him and is completely rejecting him, or Tori Spelling, who wants his man chowder. He does reveal, as well, that Kevin the Robot tragically drowned in the Powers family bathtub.
Supporting the main gang in multiple roles is Amanda Nicholas. Amanda is listed in the program as playing “Every other student at Bayside,” and plays many of the other roles including Tori Spelling (she’s not Violet in this production), Becky the Duck, Stacey Carosi, and Miss Bliss.
But the actor who steals the show, by far, is Seth Blum. Blum primarily plays Mr. Belding (who definitely has a boner for both Zack Morris and Kelly) but his most hilarious moments come in the other characters he plays, including Max, Mr. Carosi, Chief Henry, and, most hilariously, Tori Scott. Tori is brilliantly portrayed here as a masculine motorcyclist who is the ugliest girl you ever saw. Despite this, the gang all thinks she’s beautiful and she helps them come up with their money making schemes. It’s a performance that has to be seen to be believed. And Tori is definitely the rebel “girl” here–in one scene she’s off to see her parole officer for selling dope.
If there’s a downside to Bayside, it’s that I wonder whether someone not at all familiar with the show would get the satire. This is a minor quibble, though. If writing this blog has taught me anything, it’s that there are enough people around the world who love to make fun of this show that there’s no shortage of an audience. As long as Saved by the Bell reruns are being played somewhere, there will always be a new influx of people waiting to make fun of it.
The jokes come a mile a minute and, if you’re able to pick up on enough of the references like me, there won’t be many times during the show when you won’t be laughing. From an entire musical number devoted to Trapper Keepers hiding boners for Kelly to a seance where Chief Henry and Miss Bliss (whom it’s explained died, and the gang is holding a memorial dance for her) get it on, there’s enough to keep you busy for the two hours the show runs.
I’m definitely a fan of the McSmiths work now and look forward to what they have to offer in the future. They have previously staged a similar unauthorized parody, Showgirls: The Musical, to rave reviews, and I regret I missed seeing that one. If you enjoy mocking Saved by the Bell as much as I do, you need to see this show. I hope, in the future, they’ll be able to go on tour, as there’s a definite market for their show all over. For now, they play Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at Theater 80, 80 St. Mark’s Place in New York City, but will be taking most of August off. For tickets and more information, visit them online at http://baysidethemusical.com.
I traveled 750 miles to see this show. You should do the same. Consider it your excuse to take a vacation in New York.