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Gilligan's Island -- The Musical

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailin' man,
the skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
for a three hour tour...
a three hour tour...

The Cast
The Cast
(Photo: Amanda Williams)

At first glance you might think it would be easy to put on a musical version of Gilligan's Island. The TV show was fairly brainless fun. Every episode pretty much contained the same gags, same plot devices, same ending with the castaways sitting on the beach hoping to be rescued.

However, it isn't really easy to create (and not simply re-create) a musical about a TV show, which has a long history to it and for which the audience carries special child-centered affections. The target audience for this show brings with it a certain amount of baggage in preconceived ideas and expectations. On the one hand, they want the performance to be the Gilligan's Island they knew and loved. And on the other hand, they don't simply want it to be a rehash of old Gilligan's Island. In addition, our tastes for humor have, in some respects, become slightly more sophisticated over the past forty years. What we accept from an old TV show may not necessarily carry over well into a theatrical performance.

So it's an interesting challenge for a company to choose to take on. But Landless Theatre has gone where no DC theatre company has dared to go. Into the jaws of Gilligan's Island -- The Musical. And how do they do? Actually, quite well. Everyone survives and the audience leaves humming the theme song. Not bad entertainment for a hot summer's night.

Gilligan's Island has been in constant syndication for almost 40 years and has been loved by millions of people (including myself), many of whom can recite whole episodes at will. People who can tell you that the Professor and Mary Ann were originally intended to be written out of the series. Or who can sing-along with the Hamlet episode. Or who know what group sang "You need us, you need us. Like a clam needs a shell. Like a prisoner needs a cell. Like a dingdong needs a bell. You need us." Not necessarily fanatics, but people who know their Gilligan's Island.

Sherwood and Lloyd Schwartz' musical takes a variety of the TV series' plot devices, throws in some new material and adds some new inter-character relationships to create a ninety-minute performance. Hope and Laurence Juber's songs are good and flow smoothly with the storyline and action. The plot is basic and pure Gilligan. After being shipwrecked on the island, the castaways set up house and Gilligan discovers a cave with odd drawings. The Professor feels these hieroglyphics may help him uncover exactly where they have landed, which could assist them in getting rescued. As he deciphers the cave symbols, a typhoon hits the island, Gilligan causes several accidents, headhunters sneak about and an alien from outer space lands to give the gang an ominous message. And just when all looks darkest, Gilligan steps up and saves the day...sort of.

Landless' production is not entirely smooth sailing; there a few rough patches. (It IS Gilligan's Island after all.) Because this is basically a melding of TV show episodes, it isn't really an in depth character study nor does it hit profound emotional notes. Thus in a small black box space with a limited budget and little glitz to keep you dazzled, some of the songs can seem a bit long and the cast-created dance numbers a bit out of place. However, Director David Ryan and his team have added some fun site gags and other spoofs so that just when your attention might begin to wander, the Landless company pulls you back in with a laugh. What they might lack in production budget, they make up for in enthusiasm and a desire for the audience to have fun.

Mr. Ryan, who also stars as Mr. Howell, has pulled together an eerily similar looking cast to the TV show. Mr. Ryan himself sounds so much like Thurston Howell III that at first you kind of stare at him to see if he is channeling the ghost of Jim Backus. The fact that each member of the cast does a fairly good job in their roles and look like their characters is kind of amazing. The costuming helps in this area, with each cast member wearing a ubiquitous outfit associated with their castaway.

Within the ensemble, Chad Allen looks like he is having great fun as the Skipper. The rapport he has with Michael J. Fulvio's Gilligan is also evident, which is important since their comedy duo relationship is a historical anchor within the show. As Gilligan, Mr. Fulvio shines in pretty much every aspect -- acting, singing, dancing and falling down. He plays Gilligan with an infectious twinkle in his eye that is very appealing. For his love interest -- yes, there is romance in this version of Gilligan's Island -- Ashley Hall's Mary Ann is sweet, naive and always presenting a coconut cream pie. Like Gilligan, she is a bit put down upon by other cast members -- most notably Timothy R. King's Ginger. (This rendition of Gilligan's Island has a bit of the adult side to it. Lust is put on display and sex happens.) Being slightly bumbling herself, when their big Gilligan/Mary Ann kiss happens, it's quite funny.

As Hollywood starlet Ginger Grant, Timothy R. King is very entertaining. Playing Ginger as a lusting, self-absorbed, semi-vixen he slinks around the stage with a long handkerchief and a sultry air. Still able to see a slight five o'clock shadow under his makeup and playing off his drag appearance, his gender-bending works to good advantage for occasional sight gags. The seduction scene where Ginger tries to get Ernie Achenbach's The Professor in bed is beaten only by the moment The Professor finally notices Miss Grant.

Mr. Achenbach looks very much like The Professor and his voice is quite good also. He adds a touch of human warmth and realness to the role. But just a touch since the Professor is, after all, an academic first and foremost. As the wife who is always carrying her billionaire husbands stuffed teddy bear, Jill Vanderweit does a good job of recreating Natalie Schafer's famous Lovey Howell. Like Mr. Ryan, she has the blue blood vocalizations down pat.

And rounding out the cast are the guardian angel-like headhunters Lucas Badger and Matt Lee. Mr. Badger as both headhunter and threatening Alien has, along with Mr. King, Mr. Fulvio and Mr. Achenbach, one of the best voices in the cast. It's a shame he has so little time in a speaking or singing role. Matt Lee is the other half of the cannibals and brings an impish humor to the role. Together the two add another layer of comedy to the play, such as being musical bouncing heads or the hurricane's wind and rain.

Within the numbers, Mr. King's "Natural Phenomenon," Mr. Fulvio's "Bring on the Little Green Men," Ms. Hall's "I Should Have Said," Mr. Achenbach's "Professor's Lament," and the entire cast in "Worlds Apart" and of course the "Gilligan's Island Theme Song" all stand out. Gilligan's Island -- The Musical is a fun, late show diversion. Have a delicious island drink, sit back and enjoy, because "...this is the tale of our castaways, they're here for a long, long time..."

Gilligan's Island -- The Musical
Book by Sherwood Schwartz and Lloyd Schwartz
Lyrics and music by Hope and Laurence Juber
Directed by David Ryan
with Ernie Achenbach, Chad Allen, Lucas Badger, Michael J. Fulvio, Ashley Hall, Timothy R. King, Matt Lee, David Ryan, and Jill Vanderweit
Set Designer: David Ryan
Lighting Designer: Dean Wright
Piano: Mike Bartolomeo
Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission
A production of Landless Theatre
at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC
Telephone: 202-462-7833
FRI - SAT @10; $20
Opening 06/10/05, closing 07/02/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 06/11/05 performance
Musical Numbers
Gilligan's Island Theme Song/The Cast
Shipwrecked/Skipper and Cast
Good to be Rich/Thurston and Lovey Howell
Hieroglyphics/The Professor, Gilligan, and Skipper
Lucky Guy/Gilligan
How Do You know You're in Love/Mary Ann
Natural Phenomenon/Ginger
The Legend/The Professor
Though Winds May Blow/Skipper and Cast
I Should have Said/Mary Ann
Bring on the Little Green Men/Gilligan
Let's Stick Together/The Cast
Good-bye Island/The Cast
I Should Have Said (reprise)/Gilligan and Mary Ann
Professor's Lament/The Professor
Natural Phenomenon (reprise)/Ginger and The Professor
I'll Spend My Time With You/Thurston and Lovey Howell
Worlds Apart/The Cast
Gilligan's Island Finale/The Cast

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