You’d think the thrills in “Have I Got a Girl for You” would come from the prurient nature of a comedy set its setting in a Boca Raton escort agency.
But that is not the case with this play, produced by Island City Stage at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage. Rather, the thrills come from watching half of the four-person cast re-create seven or eight characters (I lost count, they come at such a rapid pace), performing the acting equivalent of high-flying acrobatics and sticking their landing each and every time.
The show is a real audience-pleaser, super smart with humor laced with venom. And the quick-change/persona-morphing is virtuoso-level stuff. The story is based on the real-life experiences of Palm Aire-based playwright Josh Mesnik. It’s directed here with focus and discipline by Michael Leeds.
Josh (Mike Westrich) is a gay, out-of-work actor and an alcoholic in rehab. Desperate for a paycheck, he interviews for a job as the assistant to the hellish-in-high-heels madame Gina (Sharyn Peoples). Once ensconced in the agency, Josh discovers he has an affinity for juggling johns (all played by Larry Buzzeo) and pampering prostitutes (all played by Christina Groom).
Josh is obsessed with Broadway shows (his computer password is “Gwen Verdon”), and the play is peppered with musical-theater references. In a particularly hilarious passage, Josh nerds out while explaining the problems with “Applause,” the musical version of the 1950 Bette Davis film “All About Eve.”
Here, “Have I Got a Girl for You” does a clever thing: using “All About Eve” as text and subtext. Ingenue-ish Josh plots to upstage prima donna Gina and steal the spotlight … and her client list.
Now, a fair criticism might be the soft and mushy ending feels a little light on profundity, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind. They gasp at the shocking bits, “uh, oh” at the tense spots and screech with laughter at the punch lines as if they were at a Tyler Perry play.
Nota bene: The show is 90 minutes with no intermission in the cozy, oh-so-intimate performance space, so it’s impossible to take a bathroom break without unwittingly becoming part of the play. Plan accordingly.
“Have I Got a Girl for You” is running through April 27 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $30. Call 954-519-2533 or go to IslandCityStage.org.