While few among us would actually sell our souls to the devil, exchanging a brief lifetime of success and fame for an eternity of pain and damnation, we'd all probably like to be given the opportunity. Such is the lure of celebrity. This is precisely the chance fledgling rocker Michael Stanley is offered in the rollicking parody now being performed by Last Call Cleveland. When Beelzebub presents the opportunity for world renown, Stanley avers that he'd be satisfied with just being famous in Ohio -- specifically Northeast Ohio, the area from Brunswick to Willoughby to Sheffield Lake.
That's one of the many comedic high points in Michael Stanley Superstar: The Unauthorized Biography of the Cuyahoga Messiah, a loose, energetic, and frequently hilarious faux profile of the Cleveland rock legend. The Michael Stanley Band played a solid breed of midwestern rock and set attendance records at such nearby venues as Blossom and the Coliseum. But he never achieved much recognition beyond the broadcasting reach of classic-rock radio station WNCX, where Stanley is now a drive-time DJ. Still, MSB is close to the hearts of Clevelanders who were around in the late '70s and early '80s.
The Last Call crew has assembled a loving and occasionally lacerating tribute to Stanley, tracing his richly fictionalized career in both live scenes and manufactured video clips. Born into a hardscrabble Cleveland family in 1948, Michael, we are told, was forced to live in a Tyco plastic playhouse for most of his youth. But once in high school, our hero joins three geek musicians (they all want to be veterinarians eventually) to pound out "hard-hittin', no-quittin', girl-gittin' rock and roll." And so he does, competing with Pittsburgh rocker Donnie Iris (a swaggering Jef Etters) for stage time and the affections of lovely Leah (Marcella Gattuso).
Mike Polk, wearing the worst fake beard ever devised, plays Stanley with just the right amount of dazed earnestness (early on, when Leah 'fesses tender feelings for him, Polk's Stanley tries to respond in kind, but winds up saying, "I want to put things in you"). The excellent Aaron McBride plays saxman Barry, a palsied Dick Goddard, and a hysterical morning DJ whose brain-dead, machine-gun patter drives Stanley to the brink of madness. The proceedings are supposedly narrated by the former TV icon Barnaby, but Keith Carr's impression doesn't come within shouting distance of the real character; Carr, however, is much more successful as the menacing, pratfalling Satan. Also contributing to the laughter is Chad Zumock as agent Tony, who has to handle other clients -- mollifying TV and radio personality John Lanigan after a DUI, saying, "Don't worry, you'll never lose the Prize Movie."
All these knowing Cleveland references, plus some knockoff MSB musical accompaniment and a relentlessly outrageous script, make this show irresistible. Let's hope Last Call finds a way to schedule a much longer run for this Superstar.