Chicago Theater Review: DOUBLE TROUBLE

by Lawrence Bommer - September 3, 2013


You could call this two-act, two-actor, two-hour romp Irma Vep meets Singing in the Rain. A charming trifle that’s also a stunning tour-de-deuce, Porchlight Music Theatre’s local premiere features two ostentatiously talented and handsome brothers, Adrian and Alexander Aguilar. They star in a madcap revue created by two very showbiz brothers, Bob and Jim Walton.

Peppy, perky and unashamedly cornball, Double Trouble employs over a dozen pizzazz-packed musical numbers to chronicle the familiar saga of two happy hopefuls, Jimmy and Bobby Martin. It’s 1941, America just went to war and, fresh from their first Broadway hit “Harlem Nights,” these eager beavers journey to Tinsel Town to write the score for MMG Studio’s new musical film “Broadway Melody.” But they must still prove their mettle to an irascible mogul who expects them to write a showstopping hit song within three days or it’s no show (or film).

The screwball plot creates contagious frenzy in this writer’s bungalow with a view of the HOLLYWOODLAND sign past the palm trees. Plunging with perfect precision into rapid-fire and complex costume changes and voice switcheroos, the Aguilars depict, among other sturdy stereotypes, a growling producer, a vamp starlet with a questionable pedigree who wants to steal their song and make the movie her vehicle, a geriatric sound guy a la Tim Conway, a nerdy intern who does celebrity impressions, and a Borscht Belt agent named Swifty who falls in love with their ditzy assistant Millie. Everyone wants a piece of their action. Plus, caught up in their own sibling rivalry and courtship competition, the brothers add their mayhem to the mischief. Happily, their kiss-off song “Better Off Without You” ends the first act and not the second.

There’s an almost shameless plethora of Sid Caesar-sized gags here, including electrical short circuits, hanky-panky a la flashlight, film-noir emoting, deliberately mistaken identities, running jokes, acrobatic pratfalls, hysterical double takes, and a fake newsreel depicting the brothers’ triumphant return to a grateful Gotham. The songs are pleasantly period and worthy of their era, ranging from a hymn to “Cold Sesame Noodles” to the rousing “You Can Do Anything” to the more temperate “Let’s Take It Slow.”

Double Trouble’s silly fluff is not about how to write a hit song in record time, as it seems from the pell-mell premise. Almost manic with sunny optimism, the Walton brothers’ confection is mostly concerned with creating complications in which groaner jokes and ancient puns are only justified by the bravura turns and wizard timing of two brilliant brothers. The Aguilars deliver the delightful déjà vu with aplomb, hoofing their way into our hearts with the tap-dancing finale “Back to Old Broadway,” or erupting into a cross-dressing jitterbug with “Gotcha!,” the song they hope will give them glory. It doesn’t, but a twist ending does.

Adrian Aguilar is as overachieving as his bumptious Jimmy, a composer who fuses Groucho Marx with Robert Benchley, while sweet-faced Alexander plays younger lyricist Bobby with doe-eyed vulnerability and moxie to spare. Four-star fun, this strange amalgam of The Producers and Sunset Boulevard would be a five-story flop if it weren’t for the combined magic of director and choreographer Matthew Crowle, music director Linda Madonia, clever costumier Alexia Rutherford and sturdy set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec. They stoop to conquer and you can’t argue with laughter, an audience’s truest confession.

photos by Kelsey Jorissen

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Double Trouble Audio

Audio clips of the authors’ live performance of DOUBLE TROUBLE.

Just the Two of Us
First Class Love
You Can Do Anything
Swifty's Song
You Can Do Anything (reprise)
Cold Sesame Noodles
A Very Good First Impression
Back to Old Broadway