SALT LAKE CITY — Walking into Bingo at The Grand Theatre felt like walking into a bingo hall. I wondered if the audience—complete with a healthy contingent of old ladies—misread their newspapers! More likely, they came like the rest of us to enjoy an uplifting musical comedy that just happens to be about their favorite pastime.
The Off-Broadway success Bingo revolves around the broken friendship between four women, Vern (Camille Van Wagoner), Patsy (Loria Baldi Call), Honey (Erica Hansen), and Bernice (Wanda Cooper). At the heart of it are sore feelings over the events on a dark and stormy bingo night 15 years ago.
The show begins with the buoyant number “Girl’s Night Out,” which sets up the action nicely and is easily the musical standout. You will be singing it in your head on the way out of the theater, or your money back. Before long the audience is brought into the action as the theater becomes a bingo hall complete with cards (included in the program), caller (Jeff Parry), and fabulous prizes. While playing bingo with the cast may be a little gimmicky, it’s even more enjoyable than it sounds (“I can’t wait to play bingo again,” I scribbled in my notes).
The script is peppered with funny one-liners and throw-aways. There are plenty of in-jokes for the initiated, but you don’t need to be a bingo fanatic to get most of them. In the end, the game simply provides a backdrop for the character drama.
Erica Hansen, who plays the evergreen bimbo Honey, has several scene-stealers, including her lovelorn ode “Gentleman Caller.” But the show belongs to Van Wagoner, who displays some serious vocal and comedic chops in her role as an outspoken chain smoker.
The play succeeds with only a couple minor setbacks. Vern’s befriending of a stranger who steals her seat is puzzling, and the frequent transitions between the past and present left me lost for a few scenes. There’s also a long detour about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that should have stayed a throw-away joke (but a pretty hilarious one at that).
But these missteps can’t stop this irrepressible musical, directed and choreographed by Jim Christian. The venue is enchanting, and the keen set (courtesy of Keven Myhre) instantly transports the audience to bingo night at their local fraternal order (the band’s Shriner fezzes were a nice touch). The cast’s voices are uniformly stellar (particularly when all together), and the dialogue is consistently amusing throughout. When the character drama inevitably comes to a head, it doesn’t bog the peppy show down.
They only give out three prizes to the audience, but everyone wins at Bingo.