Theatre Review: “The Poptimists” @ The Tabard Theatre Company, 12/4

Picture the 1970’s – a time of radical change in the American culture. Of course, some people wanted to obliterate the word “hippies” out of the teenage vernacular but the ever-loving, doped up hippies seemed to win that war. So what’s the answer to counterbalance the hippie movement? Create a happy-go-lucky, morally sound singing troupe out of high school students and make them stars. Then, send them touring around the world singing songs about peace, love, and acceptance in a totally Christian-like way (steering clear of long hair) in red, white and blue costumes. Now, that sounds like a great idea. And The Poptimists was born. Ted Kopulos, the writer of The Poptimists, created this entire show around a traveling group of young performers, called The Spurrlows, that visited Leigh School when Kopulos was a high school student. Apparently, the assembly about “optimism, racial tolerance and world peace” ultimately stuck with him.

Because this particular show deeply roots itself in the 1970’s, you almost have to be over 30 to really get the jokes and satire in the piece. Unfortunately I’m under 30 and I missed some of the relevancy throughout.Let’s compare the 1970’s “singing troupe” phase to the boy band era of the 1990’s or even the Disney controlled media of the 2000’s and I can definitely understand that. The media knows there is always a counterpart to the trashy Britney-esque pop/rock stars out there. The world wants wholesome stars, like Miley Cyrus or The Jonas Brothers, to counteract whatever is happening in the counter-culture of youth (think about the emo/screamo “cutting” crowd of today). And, for the 1970’s, The Poptimists, were their Jonas Brothers.

Overall, this show has a lot going for itself. The idea is very original, yet familiar. It’s kind of a mash-up of Altar Boyz and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. (And it’s a good mash-up, like something you would see on Glee.) There is a discrepancy between what kind of show it is. Is it a concert or a high school assembly? They either need to pick a “concert” setting like Altar Boyz or choose an “auditorium” setting like in Spelling Bee. It definitely cannot be both or switch back n’ forth. At the very beginning, guest actor Tim Reynolds, (who was quite funny) sets up the stage (literally) as the principal of the high school, asking students to listen and be respectful. And, the audience took the bait – cat calling and other obscene gestures ensued throughout Reynolds’ speech. Instantly, I was taken back to my high school gymnasium; it was a perfect set-up to the show. Then later in the production, it turned into kind of a 1970’s pop concert. As an audience member, I became a bit bi-polar trying to figure out where I was. The gym? Or the Theatre? And I never really did figure it out.

In my interview with Kopulos, he said, “…I write theater for the sole reason to give the audience, the cast, and the crew a fun time and a few funny hours away from the outside world.” Kopulos did just that. I laughed throughout the show – sometimes with the cast (“Not so Different” was quite funny), sometimes at the cast (their happy-go-lucky attitude sometimes became quite over-the-top ridiculousness), and other times at the audience themselves (especially during the song “Joining Hands”). But I laughed! “The Math of Life” sung by Denise Lum was hysterical. The lyrics were so clever and Lum’s display of naivety was spot on. All the music was well-written with thoughtful lyrics that stuck true to their 70’s sound. Kopulos definitely has an ear for 1970’s pop music. While the show is only 90-minutes long, there was one 15-minute intermission seven songs into the show. While I understand that Tabard Theatre Company makes a lot of their profit off their concessions (they do have a fantastic bar set-up in the theatre), it definitely broke up the energy of the 90-minute piece. I really wish we could have seen it without the break; it would have been a bit more cohesive.

Knowing that this is the first time this piece has ever been work-shopped or produced, I do have to commend Kopulos for putting his work out there. With some editing, some more work-shopping and a clear direction, this show could be a major hit at high schools and small regional theatres across the country. It’s fun to watch something original and fresh that’s written by a Bay Area composer/author. You should really support it just for that reason. But, I have a feeling, you’ll walk out of the theatre happy because you had a “poptimistic” time. And for that, I say: “Kopulos, you did it! You succeeded in your goal. Bravo.”


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