The Wheel of Invention
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Review by anonymous certified reviewer
What I liked
The concept was awesome: an homage to saccharine, consumerist Disney Magic™, lovingly done and yet devastatingly satirical. Maybe not the most original premise, but originally and skillfully executed.
The show is made up of three parts that read as two acts, despite the lack of an intermission. Act I is comprised of two talking-animal-acts, parodying the Tiki Room (I think?) and the Country Bear Jamboree. The bear bit was great (think: jaunty music, shotguns, moonshine, adorable bears) and I especially loved Phiddlin’ Phil’s dextrous mimed fiddling.
Do NOT ask about Club H (but if you need to know, that joke’s culmination had me laughing so hard I was almost in tears. I can’t spoil. Just see it).
Act II is the eponymous Wheel of Invention, a parody of Disney’s Carousel of Progress. One can decipher the four clever stages of Beck’s spin on Disney’s Carousel by looking at the show’s logo: the glories of wifi and the modern day, a surveillance-based police state, nuclear fallout, and The Cloud. Maybe just as clever as most dystopian stories, but so much funnier due to its Disney context. And the music is still stuck in my head.
What I didn't like
The birds weren’t that funny to me. The composer deserves a real shout-out for providing gorgeously orchestrated ear-worms that gave the show a very Disney feel; said music often rescued scenes that nearly fell flat in terms of dialogue and humor. The real Tiki Room birds sing up a storm, so maybe the Talkin’ Birds Ovah Heah could benefit from some musical magic too? Also, that section’s costumes were not too impressive either, especially when compared to the great costumes elsewhere in the show.
The Banjo Bears bit was really funny, but where Phiddlin’ Phil was impressive the Banjo Bear fell flat. He didn’t mime a single strum. Not even a big complaint (that actor was in fact very talented), it just bothered something in my brain. I’ll just pretend he was a broken animatronic.
I loved the first four stages of The Wheel of Invention. Then it went on and on and on, circling back to modern day and then to some mix of all the stages, repetitively and inelegantly reinforcing its moral (surprise: the oh-so-edgy undercurrent of this skit is "It sucks, it’s always sucked, it always will suck). Don’t get me wrong, I liked the bulk of that part of the play, but if it ended with The Cloud, it could carry the same message with a lot more finesse.
Finally, and this is not really a fixable issue so much as something that stood out to me: Disney’s Carousel of Progress and Country Bear Jamboree both once had homes in California. Unfortunately, neither of them are here anymore. Luckily, I’ve experienced both at Disney World. I suspect a great deal of Fringe’s CA audience isn’t that familiar with the real Bears or Carousel, which is a pity, because Mr. Beck has written such a fun satire thereof.
My overall impression
To all who come to this happy show, welcome.
It may skid to a stop in a few places, but it soars in others. It’s funny, it’s cynical, it’s weird, and you’ll definitely walk away with something to talk about. Come for the laughter, stay for the old guy in the seat next to you muttering to his wife about how inappropriate it all is. And please don’t ask about Club H.