February 7, 2008
Musicals: UCLA goes to Dogpatch, USA
For youngsters, "L'il Abner," one of the most widely produced musicals in the world, will introduce the muscular hillbilly hero of the title, his amorous but perpetually frustrated Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy Yokum, evil capitalist Bullmoose, Appassionata Von Climax, and the statue of the town's war hero, General Jubilation T. Cornpone.
The UCLA production, part of the annual Reprise series of Broadway classics, features lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Gene de Paul, book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, and some of Michael Kidd's original choreography.
The man who populated Dogpatch with its characters was Al Capp, one of the Jewish comic strip creators of the 1930s and subsequent decades, who compensated for the nebbishness of their youth by fantasizing a world of strapping heroes.
Among their number were Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster ("Superman"), Bob Kane ("Batman"), Will Eisner ("The Spirit") and Jack Kirby ("Captain America").
Capp, born Alfred Gerald Caplin in New Haven, was arguably the most brilliant cartoonist of the lot, according to TV writer and comic strip historian Mark Evanier, whose book, "Kirby: King of Comics," is due out next month.
Young Capp was early struck by personal misfortune when he lost a leg in a trolley car accident at age 9. He reached great fame and success -- at its height "Li'l Abner" had 70 million readers out of a population of 180 million -- but later fell into disrepute through a series of sex scandals and a growing obsession with right-wing demagogery.
"Al was a non practicing Jew who spoke a little Yiddish, but he expressed his background by giving a structure of Jewish family values to his cartoon creations," Evanier said.
When Capp created the strip in the mid-1930s, it carried strong liberal undertones of compassion for the poor. But by the 1960s, with fame and wealth, Capp turned into an ultra-conservative speaker on television and college campuses who belittled the underdog. The musical performances are Tuesday-Sunday evenings, plus weekend matinees. Tickets are $70-$75, with student/senior rush tickets offered 15 minutes before showtime at $20.
For information, call (310) 825-2101 or visit www.reprise.org