By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Monty Price (Jason Shavers) welcomes contestants to the anniversary episode to everyone’s favorite game show in “Game on.” It’s okay if you’ve never heard of “Game On” before, it’s an imaginary anniversary for a fictional TV show.
It’s not easy to describe the show in 25 words or less. It’s sort of “Let’s Make a Deal/or No Deal,” with a little bit of “Family Feud” thrown in just for the hell of it.
Like the Howie Mandel hosted show, there are a variety of numbered mystery boxes, each containing a prize from a penny to a million dollars. Monty’s beautiful assistant, Gillian Van Ness (Marissa Buchheit) opens the boxes on command. The player must decide to keep his/her box or trade it in for some bigger prize negotiated by the Banker…er…um…Executive (a silhouette of a beautiful woman in a smart pantsuit).
The prize is usually one million, but, on this special anniversary episode, the Executive decides to up the ante to TEN MILLION DOLLARS! Gasp!
While there is some interactivity to the evening, it’s a scripted show with a book by Marcus Stevens and music by David Dabbon. These contestants have to carry the tune, not name it. Luckily, three of the four contestants are actors.
The contestants are schlubby, worrywart Felix (Connor McCanlus), decisive and forthright Natalie (Josey Miller) and newly retired Grace (Christine Laitta). As for the fourth contestant; it could be you!
While Natalie and Felix are chosen from opposite ends of the room, we learn that the duo share a past. The two have baggage. During the show, their past unfolds. The couch potatoes were once lovers who bonded over their love of “Game On.”
Grace also has a secret.
As the show goes on, the Executive raises the stakes and things get weird. Things go from typical game show shenanigans to a million dollar mind game.
Who will win? Will Natalie and Felix reignite the fire between them? Will they make a love connection, or does Felix just have a candy crush?
There will be only one survivor.
The actors are magnificent. Shavers plays Monty as the quintessential game show host, with a nod to Chuck Woolery and a wink to Wink Martindale. As the show goes on, Monty gets grouchier than Groucho, but Shavers remains charming.
Buchheit is buoyant and adorable as Gillian Van Ness, earlier in the evening Buchheit shows up as a contestant from the previous episode, Deborah, and she’s and even bubblier and bouncier.
McCanlus does a superb job as Felix. He gets most of the evening’s laughs with his indecisive character, wringing his hands as he tries to decipher the clues Natalie is dropping as he tries to win the game. You can almost see the flop sweat from the back of the room.
Miller’s Natalie is a lot of fun. Of the three scripted contestants, she seems like the one you’d most want to grab a beer with.
Laitta’s Grace is reminiscent of a Rachel Dratch SNL character. Laitta gives the performance oodles of depth.
Director Jen Wineman perks the show up with some really skillful choreography, especially in the number “I Want It.” The cast executes said choreography wonderfully.
Tim Mackabee’s set is dazzling, enhanced with lighting from Alan C. Edwards. It looks like an actual set from a million dollar game show.
Christian Fleming’s costume design is artful and fun, from every button on Natalie’s jean jacket down to the Monty Price’s fabulous footwear. If the Wicked Witch of the East had workout clothes, Shavers’ sparkly kicks would be in her gym bag.
To tell the truth, “Game On” isn’t as funny as it could be. The actors are great, but the writing is… the weakest link. While it is funny, I was hoping “Game On” would try harder to make me laugh, but no dice.
Dabbon’s idea, a musical about a game show, is brilliant. It’s just not executed as well as it could have been. One or two more catchy songs and a bit more wit would have made this show a blockbuster. Luckily a talented cast, a smart director and a gorgeous set keep “Game On” from being a wipeout.
You can get your “Game On” at the Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.