It’s strange to think of “Angry Housewives” as a period piece. It seems like yesterday. When it first opened in 1983 in Seattle’s Pioneer Square Theater, the production was a runaway hit. In the midst of our region’s burgeoning theater scene, here was this crazy little musical playing to sold-out houses.
Everett High School drama teacher Bob Henry’s son was the composer and lyricist. Chad Henry’s script-writing friend, Annamarie Collins, created a comedy about four harried housewife types who form a punk band in order to make some money — and express themselves. (Punk was a diverse cultural phenomenon of the 1970s-’80s, embraced primarily by working-class, anti-establishment, mohawk-wearing young people who loved bands such as The Ramones, The Clash and the Sex Pistols — and more locally The Lewd, the Wipers, the Furies and Dee Dee & the Dishrags.)
So here it is 35 years later, and the Red Curtain theater group in Marysville is selling out its run of “Angry Housewives.” At least one guy in the cast wasn’t even born when the musical first debuted. Red Curtain director Scott B Randall was just a teen. And yet Randall gets it. With sets, props, costumes and choreography, it’s obvious he and his crew have worked hard to understand and present this decades-old musical.
It’s been performed professionally and by community groups around the world for past 30 years. At the first reading of the script by the Red Curtain cast, Randall told the group it was up them to make the show their own.
A month or so into rehearsals, actor Chris Bartness — who plays punk club owner Lewd Fingers — was still thinking about the punk movement and its serious socio-political ramifications. Today, the musical primarily offers a look back for people nostalgic for the 1980s, he said.
“However, community theater fits with the punk era in that it gives people with little experience the chance to be accepted for their hard work,” said Bartness, 54.
“Angry Housewives” is hilarious, but it also touches on what sparked the movement among the working class.
One of the housewives is Bev, a recently widowed mom who is desperately trying to make ends meet. It is her struggle that launches her punk band. Meanwhile, her teen son, Tim, is dealing with his own grief and anger. And now he’s embarrassed that he’s “the first kid on the block to have a mom in punk rock.”
Kell Engi, 19, a Snohomish High School graduate, plays Tim. “I don’t think I would have been friends with Tim in school,” Engi said. “He’s a bit annoying and focused on himself. In the end, though, he is proud of his mother.”
Codie Wyatt-Clark, 40, is Wendi, who comes up with the idea for the housewives.
“But Wendi is a confused and conflicted character,” Wyatt-Clark said. “She wants to be her own person, but she is dealing with her dependency on her boyfriend.”
In a phone conversation with Chad Henry from Colorado, where for the past 15 years he has served as the guy who helps launch new plays at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Henry talked about the theater scene in Seattle in the 1970s and early ’80s. The period included his work for Seattle Rep, ACT, Skid Road, The Group and Empty Space — the theater where retiring Village Theatre artistic director Steve Tokins got his start.
Director Linda Hartzell, who would go on to run Seattle Children’s Theatre, needed help to keep Pioneer Square Theater running. Collins came up with the script after reading a grocery store tabloid article about some angry housewives rioting at a mall. Henry volunteered to help with the music. The show was still a work in progress on opening night. The audience was sparse, Henry said.
“Annamarie and I were drinking in the sound booth, we were so nervous. We were slated for a six-week run,” he said. “But the next day The Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer published rave reviews. It was sold out every night for the next seven years.”
The musical went on to play up and down the West Coast, and then in every major city across the country, including in Chicago, and after it was picked up by publisher Samuel French, in an off-Broadway production in New York. Audiences in Tokyo, London, Berlin and Melbourne loved “Angry Housewives.”
“It’s still performed here and there a couple of times a year, but it is a period piece now — a snapshot of an era — not the play that grabbed the attention of Seattle audiences,” Henry said. “If I can make it home for the run, I’ll go see the Red Curtain’s production.”
The opening night show offered what Henry might see if he attends.
Outstanding as the Angry Housewives band are Britta Grass as Bev, Codie Wyatt-Clark as Wendi, Jenny Price as the divorcee Carol and Hilary Erlandson as Jetta, the wife of a lawyer.
The talented quartet has good chemistry and vocal harmony. Erlandson is especially wonderful performing the band’s hit song “Eat Your F—-ing Cornflakes!”
Kell Engi does a good job as Tim; as does Chris Bartness as Lewd Fingers; Jacy Leavitt as Lewd’s employee, Weasel; and Morgan Peeler as Wendi’s boyfriend, Wallace.
Bruce Erickson is delightful as Jetta’s insufferable husband Larry.
The orchestra keeps the tempo up.
It’s a heartfelt community theater production. Go ready to laugh, remember the 1980s and enjoy Chad Henry’s songs.
If you go
“Angry Housewives” is showing at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through June 17 at Red Curtain Center for the Arts, 9315 State Ave., Suite J, Marysville, in the Goodwill shopping center behind the Everett Community College cosmetology school.
Tickets are $18, or $15 for students, seniors and military. Call 360-322-7402 or go to www.brownpapertickets.com.