That’s what I wanted to scream at the show itself from my seat. Subtitled A Tanner Family Parody! and starring a guy who’s better known for his catty celebrity gossip than for his acting skills, this National Lampoon version of Full House is more like a demolition site. It opened last night at Toronto’s Randolph Theatre as a preview before it plays off-Broadway next month, but it’s not even ready for Bob Saget’s basement. Even many of the nostalgic Generation-Y kids and millennials who packed the Randolph didn’t seem too impressed; let’s just say that after intermission, it was no longer a full house.
(The ones who left were the lucky ones. As bad as the first half is, the second half is so bad that it makes you yearn for the wit and charm of the first.)
For those who’ve been lucky enough to suppress their memories of it, Full House was a sickeningly wholesome TV sitcom starring Saget as a widower living in San Francisco with his three adorable daughters, rocker brother-in-law Jesse and goofy friend Joey. Sort of the 1980s equivalent of Leave It to Beaver, but without any of the sincerity, Full House is certainly a fun and easy target for parody and satire – but this stage show’s writers and directors, Bob and Tobly McSmith, attack the original sitcom’s gentle image like a steamroller crushing a daisy. Full House: The Musical! is so obnoxious and mean-spirited that it makes you realize what a bold absurdist masterwork Cannibal! The Musical is.
In the McSmith show, which is co-directed and choreographed by Jason Wise, the Tanner family goes about its typical routine of Important Life Lessons and spring cleaning, oblivious to the complications of the real world. Things go spinning right off the trolley car after youngest daughter Mary-Kate-And-Ashley (Marshall Louise, who’s actually good) falls and hits her head in a horse-riding accident. Suddenly, Mary-Kate-And-Ashley starts transforming into a stuck-up Hollywood socialite like the real-life Olsen twins.
Meanwhile, eldest daughter DJ (Amanda Nicholas) tries to attract boys by turning nymphomaniac, middle daughter Stephanie (Marguerite Halcovage) becomes a meth addict at a party while trying to be more popular, and Danny – gasp! – starts swearing incessantly and transforms into… Bob Saget, R-rated stand-up comic. But that’s tame compared to what happens with Joey’s puppet, Mr. Woodchuck, who has a steamy sex scene with a real woodland critter, and almost nothing is left to the imagination.
There’s nothing wrong with raunchy parody of innocent pop culture – but it has to be done right. Yes, Avenue Q is a foul-mouthed, cynical satire of Sesame Street (complete with its own puppet sex), but it has an inspired script, wonderful Robert Lopez songs, likeable characters and, most importantly, a strong point of view. Full House: The Musical! has none of these things, which makes its premise more suitable for a five-minute Saturday Night Live sketch than for a two-hour stage musical. Yet even the classic SCTV skewering of Beaver – in which the Beav grows up to be an unemployed loser and Eddie Haskell comes out as gay – still works as a cutting statement about changing norms in the ’70s.
The Full House musical doesn’t have the courage to focus on any kind of coherent satirical statement; it just tosses out campy, “outrageous” shenanigans without purpose or point. For every gag that works, a dozen push way too hard. The actors might as well be running around the stage yelling, “Wasn’t Full House a square show? Haw haw haw! Let’s make them all into drug addicts and perverts! That’ll show the suits what we think of their wholesome moral values, haw haw haw!” Not that the McSmiths don’t attempt satire in their own way – but their lyrical swipes at Full House‘s clichés and conventions are all based in telling rather than showing. “The piano is a cheap device / That’s meant to make you cry,” Hilton sings, referring to the tacky musical accompaniment to Danny’s infamous Dad Speeches. Well, duh. Same goes for the repeated references to the neglect of middle child Stephanie and the favouritism that Mary-Kate-And-Ashley gets for being cute. Faithful mimicry of the TV series’ eccentricities would have been far funnier than pounding the audience over the head with words.
The scene that comes closest to being clever is an early musical number called, “There’s No Gays in San Francisco”. This comes after a bit in which Joey and Jesse (John Duff) mistake a gay bar for a candy store (it’s called Fudge Packers! Get it? Haw haw!). This inevitably results in the ludicrously naïve and sheltered male Tanners singing and dancing in a number that’s as stereotypically gay as can be. Like many of the jokes, it goes on way too long, but has one great moment when Danny, Joey and Jesse grab the framed pictures off the wall of the Tanner living room – and the pictures turn into glittery top hats.
That’s about it for inspired humour, though. Musical numbers include brief callouts from “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Falling Slowly”, but without any apparent point. Duff has a strange and totally pointless number about how Jesse plans to have an orthodox Greek wedding with Rebecca (Bridget Russell Kennedy). There are the obligatory Alanis Morissette jokes, of course (Dave Coulier, who played Joey in the original, was the supposed inspiration behind Morissette’s hit “You Oughta Know”). And there are also endless double-entendres and references to private anatomy parts, most at a level that stopped being funny when I was a high-school junior.
As for the players: Hilton is so pathetically, creepily miscast as Danny/Bob Saget that he comes off like Willem Dafoe trying to play Donny Osmond. Blum gives Joey a lot more energy and charm than the role deserves, and he also has the advantage of resembling Coulier somewhat; he also has a campy second role in drag as a grotesquely perverted version of Kimmy, DJ’s best friend. Louise probably comes off best, with a pitch-perfect imitation of the Olsen twins’ lispy, cutesy “You’re in biiig twubbo, mistuh!” delivery; she also gives the “grown-up” Mary-Kate-And-Ashley a great laid-back, too-cool socialite voice that would be hilarious if the writing were better.
If the original Full House was TV at its most cloying, phony and aggressively clean-minded, Full House: The Musical! is a valid argument that live musical theatre is going too far the other way, with raunch for the sake of raunch and no compassion or point whatsoever. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the show’s success in New York, though. I’ve seen New York theatre, and this just doesn’t cut it. If you can’t make ’em laugh at a medium-sized T.O. playhouse, how will you charm the hardened, seen-it-all theatregoers down there?
Full House: The Musical! runs at Toronto’s Randolph Theatre until September 6. Previews debut at New York City’s Theatre 80 on September 10.