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If You Want Live Theater in LA, the Best You Can Hope for Is a Tarantino Musical

His work is so busy applauding other people’s work, that it seems only fitting that a celebration of his pop culture cut-and-paste meanderings would be spooled together for our live theater viewing pleasure in a town that’s constantly talking about how...

by Julia Prescott
Jun 13 2014, 5:31am

Press photos courtesy of For the Record

Quentin Tarantino is LA’s bastard son. Mothered by Texas, fathered by Hollyweird, he's both an auteur and an obsessive nerd; playing both to the 13-year old stoners and the geriatric Academy members.

His work is so busy applauding other people’s work, that it seems only fitting that a celebration of his pop culture cut-and-paste meanderings would be spooled together for our live theater viewing pleasure in a town that’s constantly talking about how it doesn’t have live theater. And in some ways, it still doesn’t. For the Record: Tarantino is meant to be a send-up of his movie SOUNDTRACKS, mostly a mix-tape of sorts. Rarely lingering on one thought, or reference for too long.

Tarantino's two-handedness lends itself well to the scene at the DBA Theater, where, on the night I attended, handsome couples and over-40 Grouponers alike drank in the ambience, and the 14-dollar cocktails. They were there to witness some kind of tribute to their favorite king of Cinema Cool. Would it be exactly like rewatching Kill Bill for the fifth time? Would it be like witnessing a Broadway musical? Would there be Glee-celebs belting out Motown hits from the depths of the theater’s labyrinth? (Answer: Depends how many Rum and Cokes you guzzle) 

I sat with the couples and the AARP crowd; there were also the the hip out-of-towners and the enthusiastic gays eager to get this show on the road. Before I was left with my thoughts for too long, I was jolted by Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, the hapless criminals who set Pulp Fiction’s plot in motion. From there, we careened into an energetic performance of “Miserlou” where cast members played guitars. The stand-out was Hitomi Oba, who popped up from the crowd, saxophone in tow and wailed in a way made me go, “Dayamn girl.” 

We shifted from Pulp Fiction to Jackie Brown; Jackie Brown to Death Proof; the transitions were almost always interesting and only occasionally did I find myself startled. But perhaps that was the point. Was I supposed to find comedy in the swift kick from “Lonesome Town” to the Fox Force Five bit from Pulp Fiction? 

The audience guffawed when Mia Wallace picked up a knife and became the Bride from Kill Bill for all of 30 seconds. Later, the Jack Rabbit Slim’s dance party weaved seamlessly into the lap dance scene from Death Proof, and I realized: Tarantino kind of has a thing for big-assed women grinding up on things. 

It was all salacious females and the same group of agro-males over and over and over, but it all worked for the stage. The audience cheered when Inglourious Basterds melted into a marching song from Django; and when “Son of a Preacher Man,” found its way into The Delfonics' "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?” Tarantino's stuff is already so theatrical as it is; a copy of a copy, a tribute of a tribute, that this live game of dress-up might have been the most appropriate For the Record production yet. 

Jukebox musicals like Rock of Ages make their familiar pop songs the star, but the stories constructed around the karaoke jams are often thin and pointless. This show could have easily done the same, and Hollywood would have forgiven them. All it would’ve taken is one guy from Joisey exclaiming, “Sheila, I’m stuck in the middle with ya!” Cue the eponymous song. For the Record: Tarantino stands out from other Jukebox Musicals. Its story comes from things we already know; some other reference point to ease you into nostalgia. Perhaps that helped me be forgiving when some parts didn't provide narrative cohesion.

I can’t say that my audience peers were thinking hard about this, and they were not wrong. The show is not meant to be dissected to tap into the inner meaning. 

Like the films it celebrates, it felt best to just give in to the fun of it; and this show was FUN. Actors popped out of nowhere, raced across the bar or leapt onto the piano. There was a game constantly playing in your mind of, “Wait, where do I know this from?”

Another standout was their rendition of The Delfronics, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?” when actors Rogelio Douglas Jr. and Reign Morton reenacted the scene from Jackie Brown culminating in the moment Reign casually popped off bullets into the trunk of his car, killing his companion. Each time he did it, there was a break in the song—a beat—and then he would just belt a perfect falsetto back into the ballad. It was goofiness like this that kept everyone happy, drinks flowing, worries left at home. 

This show is still not going to be for everyone. It’s comfortably at the intersection of midnight movies and Broadway lite. A stony fan may not sink their teeth into the famous Reservoir Dogs ear-cutting scene where the victim belts out, “Stuck in the Middle with You” while his assailant dances around him in circles. It may be too much for the common moviegoer’s stomach when fight scenes are aided by strobe lights and staccato choreography. But luckily for them, if you don’t like it—wait 5 minutes, or 5 seconds. You’ll always be presented with another plate to pick from. 

I’m not sure if For the Record: Tarantino could work in any other town. It plays so perfectly into the Hollywood persona of loving ourselves, and to the Tarantino legend of pure unadulterated cinephile zealotry that even opening in New York would be a damn shame. 

As I walked out, I found myself wanting to share a moment with the other theatergoers, and say “There is live theater in this town!” But I was interrupted by a bouncer who eased me out of the way for a line of night clubbers jonesing to get through the door. As it turns out, the DBA transitions into a dance scene after For the Record packs up shop. 

This town, much like the man whose mind I just spent two hours with needs to appeal to both sides of the LA dichotomy; theater-goers and nightclubbers; stoners and Academy members. The duality lives on.

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