Zippy “Zoomerville” launched

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It’s always a challenge staging an unknown show.

It’s even more challenging to stage an untested show.

It is far more challenging to stage an untested musical.

That’s probably why you won’t find many brand new musicals being staged here in Indianapolis. Just a few weeks ago, “Treasure Island” gave it a shot and the solid production by Beef & Boards offers reason to hope that the show will continue to develop further with subsequent productions. (See my full review here.)

Last night, the Phoenix Theatre opened an original musical of its own, this one by a local team. I’ll be writing about it in an upcoming IBJ print column, but for now, I’ll just say this: “The Zippers of Zoomerville or Two-Hundred Laps and a Lass” is a true original, a must-see that not only offers over two hours of joyful silliness, but also the rare instance of a top-notch show that is, truly, an Indiana creation from top to bottom (or from the starting line to the finish line, as the case may be).

“Zoomerville,” a spoof of the 500 and its culture, wisely never gets too precious or insidery. It hits the wall occasionally and, like the race itself, there are some uninspiring stretches. But those barely put a dent in my admiration, enthusiasm and, okay, maybe even awe about what’s being pulled off at the Phoenix.

Inspired by Gilbert & Sullivan, “Zoomerville” also seems to be imprinted with influences from Steven Sondheim to Andy Prieboy (whose club musical “White Trash Wins Lotto” is the closest thing I’ve seen to it in style and spirit). But I don’t want to give too much credit to its antecedents at the expense of praise for the relentless creativity of playwright/co-lyricist Jack O’Hara, aided and abetted by composer Tim Brickley (who plays piano on stage throughout). The densely (and hilariously) packed lyrics and jaunty score are both stronger than any reasonable theatergoer would expect. And, with one exception, the cast gets the tone just right, with Phebe Taylor and Scot Greenwell in the plum parts of pageant queen Happenstance Throttlehopper and rookie racer John Hoosier Lordyboy Jr. standing out.

I look forward to racing back (FYI: The Phoenix has added Wednesday shows for this one). See you there?

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