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San Diego Fringe: Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical

Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical at San Diego Fringe Festival - Image by Sue Brenner
Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical at San Diego Fringe Festival
Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical at San Diego Fringe Festival

Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical. San Diego should confer the equivalent of knighthood on its special ones — those who have devoted decades to making some part of “America’s Finest City” approach that inflated claim.

An original inductee would create a problem. You couldn’t touch each shoulder with a broadsword and say, “Judy Forman, I dub thee Sir Judy.” The honor mustn’t specify a gender.

And Judy Forman’s iconic diner, The Big Kitchen Cafe, is one of the places where, for over 35 years, gender equality has reigned.

I’ve said for years they should make a TV series about the Big Kitchen, set back in the early 80s. Why? Because some of America’s finest comics either worked at or hung out there: Whoopi Goldberg washed dishes, when she wasn’t part of the comedy team (Don) Victor and Goldberg. Kathy Najimy and Maureen Gaffney (of the Broadway hit “the Kathy & Mo Show”) were there, along with members of the comedy group Hot Flashes, plus artists, poets, and marginalized gays and lesbians.

The premise: future stars, working in a diner, try out material and lead the new wave of feminism and tolerance in San Diego. Like Friends, only really funny and socially progressive.

Forman — a.k.a. “Judy the Beauty on Duty” — should be knighted. But she’s enjoying the next best thing. Big Kitchen: A Counter-Culture Musical — music by Robert Schleeter, book, Corey Fayman — pays her long overdue homage.

Given the time constraints, we only see the first act, and don’t come to the actual dilemma: Judy’s retiring, who can possibly replace her?

The piece begins slowly, and assumes we already know the legend. Judy comes from Detroit, buys a diner in South Park, and creates a magnet for the “counter” — in two senses — culture.

The first two songs are generic Broadway fare. But starting with “We Was Humpin,” belted by Julian Davis, among others, and “I Wanna Be a Star” (Yvette Jackson) and concluding with back-to-back anthems, “You’re Looking for the Power” (Eboni Muse — a blast) and “Everybody Needs to Eat,” things keep on kicking.

The musical offers a history of the diner and San Diego as well. “If,” a moving song about AIDS, and “Can We Work It Out?” are high quality.

Lydia Lea Real does a terrific monologue as Rusty — biker, lesbian, ex-Marine — that’s a major testimonial to Forman and the Big Kitchen.

Wearing one of Forman’s tie-dyed rainbow-colored outfits, Laura Preble has “the Beauty on Duty” down to a T. The show also sports living history: Don Victor — of Victor and Goldberg — plays Bernie.

The production numbers make up in spirit what they sometimes lack in polish. As does this Carla Nell-directed show. It needs work and could make the central issue — Forman’s leaving — much more urgent from the start. But as is, and only half of the whole, it’s guaranteed to uplift.

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Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical at San Diego Fringe Festival - Image by Sue Brenner
Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical at San Diego Fringe Festival
Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical at San Diego Fringe Festival

Big Kitchen: A Counter Culture Musical. San Diego should confer the equivalent of knighthood on its special ones — those who have devoted decades to making some part of “America’s Finest City” approach that inflated claim.

An original inductee would create a problem. You couldn’t touch each shoulder with a broadsword and say, “Judy Forman, I dub thee Sir Judy.” The honor mustn’t specify a gender.

And Judy Forman’s iconic diner, The Big Kitchen Cafe, is one of the places where, for over 35 years, gender equality has reigned.

I’ve said for years they should make a TV series about the Big Kitchen, set back in the early 80s. Why? Because some of America’s finest comics either worked at or hung out there: Whoopi Goldberg washed dishes, when she wasn’t part of the comedy team (Don) Victor and Goldberg. Kathy Najimy and Maureen Gaffney (of the Broadway hit “the Kathy & Mo Show”) were there, along with members of the comedy group Hot Flashes, plus artists, poets, and marginalized gays and lesbians.

The premise: future stars, working in a diner, try out material and lead the new wave of feminism and tolerance in San Diego. Like Friends, only really funny and socially progressive.

Forman — a.k.a. “Judy the Beauty on Duty” — should be knighted. But she’s enjoying the next best thing. Big Kitchen: A Counter-Culture Musical — music by Robert Schleeter, book, Corey Fayman — pays her long overdue homage.

Given the time constraints, we only see the first act, and don’t come to the actual dilemma: Judy’s retiring, who can possibly replace her?

The piece begins slowly, and assumes we already know the legend. Judy comes from Detroit, buys a diner in South Park, and creates a magnet for the “counter” — in two senses — culture.

The first two songs are generic Broadway fare. But starting with “We Was Humpin,” belted by Julian Davis, among others, and “I Wanna Be a Star” (Yvette Jackson) and concluding with back-to-back anthems, “You’re Looking for the Power” (Eboni Muse — a blast) and “Everybody Needs to Eat,” things keep on kicking.

The musical offers a history of the diner and San Diego as well. “If,” a moving song about AIDS, and “Can We Work It Out?” are high quality.

Lydia Lea Real does a terrific monologue as Rusty — biker, lesbian, ex-Marine — that’s a major testimonial to Forman and the Big Kitchen.

Wearing one of Forman’s tie-dyed rainbow-colored outfits, Laura Preble has “the Beauty on Duty” down to a T. The show also sports living history: Don Victor — of Victor and Goldberg — plays Bernie.

The production numbers make up in spirit what they sometimes lack in polish. As does this Carla Nell-directed show. It needs work and could make the central issue — Forman’s leaving — much more urgent from the start. But as is, and only half of the whole, it’s guaranteed to uplift.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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