REVIEW: "DROP DEAD!" — Newport Theatre Arts Center

Updated: Nov 23

A Hilarious Blend of Madcap Comedy with Metatheatre


NEWPORT BEACH — NOV 21, 2022

A washed-up, recovering director is trying to run his last dress rehearsal with a few inept egomaniacs, hopeless no-names and stand-ins. He is desperate for the show to go on. Even the producer's girlfriend is in the show — a porno queen, who can’t help but have a little fling with the butler. It’s a last-ditch effort, but this group of has-beens are putting all they can to revive their careers in their stage production of “DROP DEAD!,” a little-known, pot-boiler English-style murder mystery.



But there are problems galore. Opening night looms and everything that could possibly go wrong does. The sleazy producer, is ready to rip the megalomaniac director apart. There are missed lines, missed cues, missing furniture, actors upstaging each other, egos running rampant, and romances turning sour. Amid the chaos, murders of the cast and crew that are not part of the script begin to happen for real. As the body count rises, the remaining thespians must save the show and their careers, solve the murder mystery and stay alive long enough for curtain calls. “DROP DEAD!” is a nonstop physical comedy that takes the idea of "the show must go on" to a deadly new level.


Under the direction of NTAC’S Gregory Cohen, “DROP DEAD!” is now being presented at Newport Theatre Arts Center through December 11th, headed up by the eccentric, ego-driven Victor Le Pewe (Jack Millis), "Wonder Child of the Broadway Stage," who has been commonly described as a psychotic eye-twitching megalomaniac.



Predictably, for this kind of madcap romp, there has to be a diva in the show, and she is extravagantly played by Mary Price Moore as former television star Mona Monet (taking on the role of Alexander's bitter sister Bette in the metadrama, playing her to the hilt with arrogance, humor and a lot of posing). She seems to be the most serious actor in the group, holding her long cigarette holder like a second appendage, but her overwhelming desire for fame clouds her ability to get along with the other actors, so they are out to get her onstage.


And by-the-book lead actor Brent Reynolds (Jon Korbonski; also playing Alexander), decked out in a red, Hefner-style, waistcoat smoking jacket has an innate inability to either remember or correctly pronounce the name of his co-star, ‘Penelope,’ which is, coincidentally, the name of his 13th wife, so you decide. In some very funny moments of timeless physical comedy, Brent gets his nose accidentally broken onstage during dress rehearsal, and is forced to continue the scene in overbearing pain, while somehow performing several hysterical soliloquies about snow.



An ex-porno star Candy Apples (Justine DeAngelo; also playing the gum-popping Penelope mentioned above) lands a role in the production thanks to Candy’s relationship with the show's producer, who mostly interferes and throws his weight around (meddling money-man P.G. "Piggy" Banks, played by a commanding Paul Burt). Penelope, at “Piggy’s” insistence, appears in sexy black lingerie through most of the show.


Bobby D. Lux plays actor Dick Scorsese (who plays Inspector Mounds from Scotland Yard in “DROP DEAD!”), sent to investigate the death of Lord Barrington, Alexander and Bette’s father. Dick’s only claim to fame is that he guarantees his brother Martin will be in a front row seat on opening night. But Dick is no actor, a fact that becomes all the more apparent as the murders keep happening.



Overzealous apprentice Chaz Looney is portrayed by John Vann, who also plays Drools the Butler. Drools reads lines taped to the back of a couch and sports white waves of hair and a black tux. After he receives a suggestion to play the butler as a Frenchman, even though Le Pewe forbids him to do so, Mr. Vann’s butler dons a beret for opening night. And although you could not always understand what he was saying, each line seemed funnier than the last.


MarcAntonio Murrillo plays a flamboyant stage manager and director’s assistant by the name of Phillip (who obviously sports some extracurricular dalliance with the director outside of work) and keeps the cast in check as they attempt to make it through the play’s final rehearsal before opening night. But as the cast readies for their stage performance, they find themselves engrossed in a real mystery as cast members are killed off one at a time during rehearsal.



Playwright Alabama Miller (Ian MacGregor) is a recently escaped prisoner who turns to drink once he realizes how his masterpiece has been tainted and rewritten by Le Pewe. In an attempt to salvage his script, he joins the cast onstage, dressed as a choir member, announces he is there to watch the lines and promptly gets his mouth taped shut by Phillip.


But one of the zaniest characters in the show is the sweet, 91-year old deaf actress, Constance Crawford (Yvonne Robertson), who also plays the Lady Barrington. Hippy dippying on and off the stage, sometimes at cue and sometimes not, Ms. Robertson is the epitome of ancient and totally embodies the stereotype, constantly cracking the audience up.



Each actor is perfectly cast and chews the scenery with gusto. Mr. Millis’ Victor Le Pewe directs “DROP DEAD!” most of the time from within the audience, and sometimes even standing behind me and cursing under his breath at the battiness he is witnessing onstage. This leads him to don a dress as a last resort and take on the role of Lady Barrington after he fires the old stager. And, of course, as mentioned, being totally deaf, she still decides to make her grand entrance anyway on opening night, appearing beside him and playing her role simultaneously.


“DROP DEAD!” was written in 1985 by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, originally produced in 1986 Off-Broadway and then in Los Angeles at Cort Theatre (1991), which starred Adrienne Barbeau, Rose Marie and Donny Most, playing to sold out houses. It’s unique in that most of the action takes place on a stage that had to be transformed to resemble the low-budget “off-off-off-off Broadway” stage called for in the script. The stage, which is said to have been created on a $35 budget, is complete with uneven walls and defective props, and even the furniture is painted into the background.


It’s organized disorder, dropped lines, missed entrances, and actors storming up and down the aisles. Forgotten props and late sound effects. It speaks to those who have ever been involved with producing, directing, or being in a play, and how the combination of all these things can lead to a flop.


Like other comedies of this type, such as “Noises Off” and “Play On,” DROP DEAD! centers on the actors, director, producer and stage manager as they attempt to present a murder mystery with disastrous results. As everything that could go wrong does go wrong on opening night, several actors are murdered for real, causing the remaining thespians to literally freak out onstage.


By the time final dress rolls around, the actors are feuding, their playwright is distraught because the director has cut his 576-page life’s work down to just

18 pages — including the prop list — and there is still no shortage of characters slapping, betraying and murdering each other. This physical comedy will astonish, confuse, and exhilarate you as you try to figure out whodunit, all amidst ditzy, delightful insanity.


Go watch "DROP DEAD!" so you too can experience the thrills of live theatre at its goofiest. This play pushes boundaries and will not disappoint anyone looking for a ton of fun!


WITH: John Vann; Justine DeAngelo; Jon Korbonski; Bobby D. Lux; Mary Price Moore; Jack Millis; MarcAntonio Murillo; Paul Burt; Yvonne Robertson; Ian MacGregor.


“DROP DEAD!” by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore; Directed by Gregory Cohen; Scenic Design by Jim Huffman; Costume Design by Tom Phillips and Larry Watts; Lighting and Sound Design by Josh Serrano; Stage Managed by Kristina Anderson. Performances are November 17-December 11; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.

Tickets $20-25; Available at https://www.ntactickets.com/drop-dead.


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


Photo Credits: Chuck Weinberg