We used to wake up every Saturday morning with Saved by the Bell, a chaste NBC sitcom about life in a fictional California high school. Every week we'd laugh along with Zack, Kelly, Slater, and the whole gang as they got themselves into schemes, pranks, and messes, but were always saved by the twenty-four minute mark-- and usually learned a lesson to boot! Last night, I went to bed with Saved by the Parody, a self-explanatory parody of that formulative program, written and directed by (and co-starring as A.C. Slater) Ren Casey. I went in expecting a lot of over the top wardobe, humor, and some seedy, raunchy escapades from Zack, Kelly, Slater and the whole gang. For a play that still seems pretty new in its inception, two out of three ain't bad.
Performed at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks by a group of sketch comedy actors, Saved by the Parody, which runs every Saturday at 10:45 pm is kind of a "greatest hits" episode of the show. The parody combines past iconic plots (Becky the duck, The Sprain, Hot Sundae, Jessie and Zack spying on Slater at the movies...) rather than create a new one, spec script style, but it does feature quite a few completely original musical numbers that proved given a little more time-- and a little bit bigger budget-- this could go on to be a cult favorite, just like the show itself.
From the opening of Act One-- where the characters are introduced the same was as in the title sequence of the show (with their faces in neon, squiggly cut outs)-- to the closing freeze-frame high-give, Saved by the Parody draws its laughs from the cheese factor of the original 90s sitcom, which seems so much more pronounced now that the audience is older, and it is decades later where the fashions, too, seem ridiculous. Actors like Jennifer Bainbridge, who portrays Jessie Spano, take their characters to another level by radiating an intensity that added another layer to her already unraveling (see: "I'm so excited/I'm so scared") goody-two-shoes attitude.
Michael Montiel and Lara Hughes absolutely nail their roles of Samuel 'Screech' Powers and Violet Bickerstaff, respectively, transforming into the awkward, lovesick geeks with more than just mismatched clothes and thick glasses. Montiel's cracking voice, as if this is earlier in the series when Screech is still going through puberty, is an especially nice touch, and their singing voices are perfectly matched for their duet.
Further, it is great to see the parody point out the ill-fit addition of Tori (played here by Margaret M. Spirito) and the random extras and guest stars that find themselves in every scene (all expertly portrayed by Luke Barnett, who especially shines during-- and even partially steals!-- the scene in the movie theater). Spirito has a somewhat Alex Borstein style to her solo which literally caused my eyes to tear with laughter. When she sings about feeling like she's just "filling someone else's part," it is the parody's first real jab at the show on which it is based; it raises the stakes a bit; and it leaves the audience wanting much more of that.
There are some subtle, tongue-in-cheek references to more adult themes, most notably David Kirk Grant's effeminate take on Mr. Belding, but a parody is a parody, and in order to cause really raucous laughter with a group that already understands the material, there should be much more of that. Where are the jokes about how everyone's really sleeping with each other? There's no way any high school was or is as chaste as portrayed on Saved by the Bell, and after Spirito sings that school isn't how she sees it on TV, the audience wants to see the play turn in that direction. Not a "bigger, better Bayside" but a darker one!
Saved by the Parody, quite surprisingly, skips all of the subplots about the very many girls (and a few guys) who managed to come between Zack and Kelly through the years, which is probably the show's only major flaw. With Zack and Kelly being the original Ross and Rachel, it is expected (and would be nice) to see either Jeff or Danielle from The Attic or hell, Stacy Carosi and the Malibu Sands beach club!!-- someone to give their relationship a front-burner story line as it more often than not had on the series itself. Their crazy on-again/off-again "going steady" moments were why so many watched. Stephen Steelman (who looks so much like his on-stage alter-ego Zack Morris eight year-old me would have had posters of him on my ceiling) has a rollercoaster of emotions to hit throughout the play parody, but the one that was missing was his "love" for Kelly. It would have been nice to see the play acknowledge and make fun of how much Zack seemed to just want to have her, like any possession, especially when Steelman sings about just wanting a trophy so he could be immortalized in Bayside forever.
If you were a diehard, never-missed-a-Saturday-morning, Saved by the Bell fan, this play is still a must-see, too, to bring you back to those simpler times when you were just a wee child dreaming that life could someday be for you what it was for those who roamed the halls of Bayside. If you have friends who claim to have never watched the original, this version might not be over-the-top enough for them to completely "get" the love and admiration. Perhaps it is best for them to start with the DVDs; the complete season is available now, including the much-less-loved College Years.