Theater Info for the Washington DC region

American Century Theater Hellzapoppin

By • Jul 30th, 2007 • Category: Reviews

Listen to our review of The American Century Theater’s production of Hellzapoppin [MP3 6:22 1.8MB].

Laura: Thursday evening we saw The American Century Theater‘s production of Hellzapoppin in Arlington, Virginia.

Mike: Hellzapoppin was a 1938 Broadway hit. It’s a comedy revue starring Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. The show is a collection of musical and comedy bits of things that are not related to each other at all. It was very much a variety show of different things put together with a cast of over 25 people.

Laura: This show had it’s funny bits. However I think it will appeal to an older audience. I felt that the timing was a bit off. There were some people in the audience who thought it was hysterical. They didn’t have good audience so I felt that the actors and actresses were really trying to almost pull teeth in order to get a laugh.

Mike: I think part of the problem was that the Thursday night audience of which we were a part of, was too stiff. I think a weekend audience would have been out for drinks beforehand, had a nice dinner and been more relaxed since they didn’t have to go to work the next day. So at times it felt awkward because nobody was laughing. I kind of wish the audience stooges, of which there were several, in fact it seemed like most of the audience was part of the show, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But it seemed like the audience stooges should have helped us out by starting laughing or clapping or whatever needed to happen at certain points of the show. I enjoyed parts of the show a lot, but unfortunately a lot of it I felt was just stuff I’d seen before. A lot of it I felt was lifted straight from movies like Airplane. I also felt like part of it was like Monty Python. That was the feel they were going for: just zaniness. And it never quite worked out enough to be quite zany enough.

Laura: Olsen and Johnson, the hosts of Hellzapoppin, were two real performers. They were performers at the end of the Vaudeville days in 1938. Chic Johnson was played by Doug Krenzlin. He was the more cut up of the two. He had some funny bits. There was some kind of a party going on “back stage” and every time he would come out he would be made up more hilariously and also more inebriated every time he came out. Those were funny bits. Over all I think he tried a little bit too hard to get the laugh. The audience Thursday night was a little bit too stiff and were not quite warming up to him.

Mike: Johnson’s partner, Ole Olsen, was played by Bill Karukas. He did a pretty good job as the straight man. He kept the show focused on getting the jokes out. He gave lots of good set up line for the other performers. In the show notes it talks about how Olsen and Johnson were pretty much the straight men for the other performers. I think Karukas did that pretty good. For example when the man would walk by carrying a case, he would ask him, “Hey, where are you going with that suitcase?” There were pretty funny puns at times. For the most part I liked his performance as the straight man in Hellzapoppin.

Laura: There was a wide range of acting by the other ensemble performers in Hellzapoppin. When they had lines to sing they sang those well. They weren’t always all together and you could see some nervousness on some of the performers’ faces.

Mike: One of the disappointments I had with the show was I don’t feel like everybody bought in to their characters. There were a lot of ongoing gags that lasted throughout the whole show. Some of those were pretty funny. One was the potted plant that grew larger and larger as the man was coming to look for Mrs. Kenney to deliver it to. That was a special treat. He was really committed to that role. At the end of the show we were walking out to the parking lot, he was up a tree calling for Mrs. Kenney. I though that was a pretty creative touch.

One of the other ongoing gags was the “Oscar Lady.” She would wander through the stage, wander through the audience calling for someone named Oscar. She continued doing that during the intermission. She passed by me and asked if I had seen Oscar. I answered that I thought I had seen him in the trash can. She had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe it was a little too subtle, but I was just thinking of Oscar the Grouch living in a trash can and she totally didn’t play with that concept.

I admire the performers for continuing their roles during intermission. That was definitely breaking through that fourth wall. Unfortunately, for example at the end of the first act we weren’t sure if it was the intermission or not. People were just kind of sat there for a few minutes and then decided to get up. That was kind of interesting.

Laura: The costumes in Hellzapoppin were very good. There were a lot of costume changes. Some of them were pretty fast, too.

Mike: It was also a very simple set. Theater Two at Gunston was set up in a different format than it usually is. It was much more a studio audience type set up as opposed to the theater in the round that it is normally. That was nice. There was a proscenium arch with a very nice velvety curtain that very much felt like a 1930’s theater. Once the curtain was raised, the stage was a a very flexible area. It was a room that at times served as a courtroom, served as a hotel room. And there was a door that was used for many different entrances and ongoing gags. I think the simplicity of the set was a plus for this complex of a show.

Laura: Hellzapoppin is playing through August 18. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8. Select Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 PM at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington, Virginia.

Mike: One of the things that hurt this show was a lot of the gags we’ve seen before and we’ve seen a lot of this type of thing on YouTube. The people who were enjoying this show a lot were the older crowd who probably haven’t seen this type thing lately. If you like Monty Python or the Airplane! movies, I think Hellzapoppin would be right up your alley.

Laura: And now, on with the show.

Other Reviews


  • Ole Olson: Bill Karukas
  • Chic Johnson: Doug Krezlin
  • Brian Crane: Producer
  • Malice the Punk Drummer: Alice Fuller
  • Oscar Lady: Tanera Hutz
  • Ensemble: Esther Covington
  • Ensemble: Kathryn Fuller
  • Ensemble: Evan Crump
  • Ensemble: Emily Webbe
  • Ensemble: Steve Lebens
  • Ensemble: Andrea Abrams
  • Ensemble: Alex Perez
  • Ensemble: Ed Xavier
  • Ensemble: Suzanne Edgar
  • Ensemble: John Tweel
  • Ensemble: Ron Sarro
  • Ensemble: Glen White
  • Ensemble: Jennifer Robison Potts
  • Ensemble: Mary Millben
  • Ensemble: Deborah Critzer
  • Audience Stooge: Ellen Dempsey
  • Audience Stooge: Ginny Tarris
  • Audience Stooge: Lou George
  • Audience Stooge: Dwayne Pierce
  • Senator: Jack Marshal Sr.
  • Senator: Bruce Follmer


  • Stage Manager: Rhonda Hill
  • Assistant Director: Rip Claussen
  • Real Pianist: Alvin Smithson
  • Backstage Crew: Annie Fuller, Claire Fuller, Mike Schuster, Mark Guthrie, Greg Benson, Mattie Haggardy, Quill Nevker-Monch
  • Follow Spot Operators: Mary Meyer, Matt McInness, Mike Schuster
  • Costume Crew: Ashley Brown, Sarah Schuster, Kwame Head
  • Sound Board Operators: Grant Marshall, Kira Simon, Nancy Owen
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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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