Sometimes “You wanna be where everybody knows your name.” This familiarity is by far the biggest selling point to Stageworks Media and TROIKA Entertainment’s new comedy, Cheers Live On Stage, currently playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Adapted by Erik Forrest Jackson, with direction by Matt Lenz, the 26 Emmy Award and 4 Golden Globe Award-winning sitcom has been reimagined for the stage. Weaving numerous memorable lines from the scripts of multiple classic episodes, this little gem is far better than it needed to be. Modern audiences can experience the joy found from their television screens, now fully fleshed out within the confines of the theater. This nostalgia filled slapstick, romantic comedy focuses on familiar material from the show’s first two seasons. Split into two acts, it isn’t a prerequisite to be a fan of the original Beacon Hill Boston Bar television show that aired for 11 seasons on NBC between 1982 and 1993, although it certainly helped.
The show centered around Sam Malone (Grayson Powell) a former relief baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and now proprietor of a bar called Cheers. Powell could be Ted Danson’s doppelganger, their mannerisms and speaking cadence so remarkably similar. His comic foil, Diane Chambers (Jillian Louis) a smart and uptight WASP, originally played by Shelley Long. Their wild attraction and constant oil and water bickering fueled the will-they/won’t they get together for years. Behind the bar, the dithering everyman bartender, Coach (Barry Pearl) who, like the characters’ originator Nicholas Colasanto, brought the loudest and most consistent laughs from the audience. The two most famous patron’s drew loud applause as well as they pulled up a stool. Cliff Clavin (Buzz Roddy) the know it all mailman, initially played by John Ratzenberger, and Norm Peterson (Paul Vogt) the beer swigging lovable accountant, originally portrayed by George Wendt. Servicing the customers, loudmouth and sarcastic cocktail waitress, Carla Tortelli (Sarah Sirota) doing her best Rhea Perlman. While I think it important to mention all of their mirrored television counterparts, each actor here successfully made the characters their own. We even got a glimpse of Sumner Sloan (Richard B. Watson) the man who initially brought Diane to the bar for a drink, only to quickly reconcile with his ex-wife and abandon the cerebral blonde, then hired by Sam to service the patrons.
While the actors set the story in motion, Michael Carnahan’s incredibly detailed scenic design is a star on its own. Every bit of the television soundstage set was brought to vivid life. The familiar oak tones of the wooden bar will astound. At intermission, selected members of the audience were invited up on stage for a drink and a photo or two. Others were allowed to play extras during the staged scenes, as my friend Susan did the night I attended. Visit CheersLiveOnStage.com for full details. Michael McDonald’s 1980’s costumes, including Diane’s shoulder padded blouses and below the knee hemlines and Carla’s sports team tee-shirts, inspired time warp, flashback giggles. Philip S. Rosenberg astute lighting captivated as well.
Each episode of the sitcom started with the conversant line, “Cheers is filmed in front of a live audience.” Unlike the recent I Love Lucy Live stage show, Cheers is thankfully not presented with the show within a show gimmick. Selecting the best of the best lines from the show’s early years, including “Great girl, is she taken?” “Only with herself” and Carla’s every present contempt for Diane, referring to her as “Lady Di-job” the laughs were well earned if not all that original. My only consistent objection, they really do not break any new ground here. It is just familiar characters reciting familiar lines, which can also be currently watched in heavy rotation on DVD box sets, Nick at Night and TV Land reruns. It is common knowledge there is also a Family Ties Live show in the works. If familiar sitcoms are the source material sustaining the future of the stage, where are The Golden Girls Live, Designing Women Live and Sex and the City Live? The automatic built in, largely female audience for live theater seems like a no-brainer win to me. But I digress. Swinging back to Cheers Live On Stage, during the curtain call, the audience jumped to their feet for a rousing rendition, and spontaneous sing-a-long, of the theme song. I guess there is legitimately something to “wouldn’t you like to get away” to a place “where everybody knows your name.”
Cheers Live On Stage is currently playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place through October 23, 2016