By Iris Wiener
A parody of epic proportions, Bayside! The Musical is as brilliant in its execution as the 90s television series is in its unrealistic conceit. Clever, catchy musical numbers, raunchy physical comedy, and humor that pokes fun at every aspect of the sitcom (from its inane plotlines to its indulgent stars of media) make Bayside! a verifiable theatrical treat.
Though Bayside! has literally been making audiences cry from laughter since September 2013, the show recently teamed with popular humor brand National Lampoon, allowing writers/directors Bob and Tobly McSmith the opportunity to revamp a production already lauded by both critics and fans. The new Bayside! is equally as entertaining as its previous incarnation, making it a necessity that it be revisited by old fans and given a chance by those who have yet to fall prey to its gut-punching hysterics.
Bayside! remains a nostalgic pleasure for devotees of the sitcom. The Saturday morning staple was gooey, yet simple: a group of friends and their principal take on lighthearted situations that culminate in a sappy lesson at the tail end of twenty-two minutes. Bayside! riffs on Zack (Sam Harvey) and Kelly’s (Katie Mebane) break-up, Slater’s (John Duff) wrestling career, Lisa’s (Shamira Clark) cluelessness, and perhaps the most iconic moment of the series, Jessie’s (April Kidwell) addiction to caffeine pills. Amid Trapper Keepers, giant cell phones, and Screech’s (Justin Cimino) robot Kevin, a cast of improvisational wunderkinds answer important questions: What was the deal with Slater’s sexuality? Whatever happened to Miss Bliss? Why were there only six students at Bayside High? What was the purpose of biker-chick Tori? The answers to such questions do not disappoint.
The McSmiths have deftly added Saved by the Bell alum Dustin Diamond to Bayside!’s cast in the role of…Dustin Diamond. The actor gets his own dance number, and commendably does not shy away from teasing at the scandals that have plagued his reputation. As the Dustin Diamond that is encapsulated in this uncensored Bayside High, he makes well-timed entrances as the janitor, zinging one-liners and interjecting words of disillusioned wisdom. He jabs of his fictional career, "I made some pretty bad life choices." It’s immediately clear that joining this production was not one of them.
Diamond is not the only cast member with clever new jests. Cimino, whose Screech is an uncanny, more interesting character than the one made famous on television, utters one of Bayside!’s best new lines. On Diamond’s book that loosely provided the framework for Lifetime’s The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, Screech jabs, "I’ll write a shitty book and Lifetime will write a shitty movie about it."
The actors’ adroit adlibbing and ability to work an audience continues to make every performance a unique experience. Kidwell’s take on Jessie’s interpretive dance in Act II is award-worthy- a flailing, psychotic, and hauntingly hysterical experience not to be missed. Seth Blum’s bawdy multitude of roles ranging from Mr. Belding, Tori Scott and Mr. Carosi, are scene stealers. As every other student at Bayside (and Becky the duck), Amanda Nicholas is another standout. The actress demonstrates a knack for physical humor that far surpasses the likes of the current cast of Saturday Night Live.
The McSmiths have set a tone that is upbeat in all of its cynicism. Among the zaniness and satirical digs at Saved by the Bell’s contrived plots and characters, Bayside! features a book that is intelligent in its consistency and rewarding in its witticism. Every song is memorable and serves as ear worms for weeks to come. Just try to get catchy "Back to Bayside!", the musical’s opening number, out of your head- it will be a gratifying challenge. "90s Power Rock Ballad of Love! (The Trapper Keeper Song)" features one of the best visual gags currently on the New York stage.
There are many reasons why original cast members Dennis Haskins, Leanna Creel and Patrick Thomas O’Brien have stopped by to host performances of the hit show (Haskins has stopped by multiple times!). An impeccably funny send-up of a series that is indelibly ingrained in pop culture, Bayside!, which has already been extended seven times, is as much a love lette
r as it is a roast to the portent that was Saved by the Bell. Bayside! is a celebration of a generation’s guilty pleasure, and with Dustin Diamond in attendance at this party, people should reserve their seats immediately.
The show is performed Wednesday and Thursday at 8:00 PM; Friday at 7:30 PM and 10:00 PM;and Saturday at 8:00 PM at Theatre 80. Tickets are $45. To purchase, log onto www.BaysideTheMusical.com or visit the Theatre 80 box office. Theatre 80 is located at 80 St. Mark’s Place at First Avenue.