Easy Reader Staff

The Rose Bowl Queens, A striking musical

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For the upcoming premiere of the musical “The Rose Bowl Queens,” tiaras and fringed sashes are unwelcome. A split fingernail suffered by a float-riding Pasadena parader is nothing compared to the pain of watching your anchor leave a Bucket, Bedposts or the Big Four. The pasted-on smile of television’s New Year’s debutante isn’t remotely as joyous as teammates’ beer-cheers for a Hambone.

In case you haven’t gotten it by now, “The Rose Bowl Queens” has zero to do with the Jan. 1 public relations marathon celebrating Southern California weather. It’s about BOWLING, that wonderful everyman’s (and woman’s) sport where you get your hands dirty, your shirt sweaty, and you can eat pizza and drink beer with abandon because everyone else in the place is doing it.

Co-writers Cheryl Gimbel and Barbara Hart, both living on the Hill, have extensive backgrounds in theater and music. Not so sure about 8-pin Pocket Taps or Washouts. Is there a bowling alley in PV, other than the occasional basement rec rooms of the reclusive? Regardless of the fact that their habitat is much more conducive to Vivaldi, a set with the local tennis pro, and a quick 18 at PV Golf Club, the pair have created a funny musical about a hangout for keglers. It took them about three years, and several trips to Nashville to record the music, to capture the small town feeling (and the smell of rented bowling shoes). Now, finally, “The Rose Bowl Queens” opens at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood on March 5.

Gimbel studied fine arts and music at USC and has forever enjoyed a passion for writing poetry, stories, lyrics and scripts. She co-founded Peninsula Children’s Theater, where she taught theater arts and musicals. In 1998, she joined ACT II and served for seven years as creative producer. When Barbara Hart performed in a show, the two decided to write a show. Cheryl has inbred knowledge of bowling alleys, having been born in Ohio. If you don’t frequent the lanes during the Ohio winters, you’re damned to be a couch potato watching the Browns and Bengals lose every Sunday.

Barbara Hart has been writing songs for over 30 years and, while working in Nashville, received a Grammy nomination for a collection of lullabies called “Little Sleepy Eyes.” She has also written three children’s book in the Octopus Rex series, with each book including a CD of her original songs. She’s written questions (answers?) for the game show “Jeopardy” and presently spends her days working for First Call Staffing in Torrance.

The show’s music is polished country – authentically acoustic and hummable, with notable twangy guitars and simple, yet effective, close country vocal harmonies. The lyrics are laugh-out-loud funny. Not the kinda stuff you hear at Starbucks, but who likes elevator music anyway? The audio world is best served sans Kenny G.

In “Queens,” a low-life building inspector threatens to condemn St. Jerome’s Rose Bowl bowling alley to build a high-rise hotel. St. Jerome’s is “anywhere U.S.A.,” according to Gimbel. John Coltrane is not on the coffee shop jukebox; Billy Joel is a stretch.

The invasion of out-of-county carpetbaggers enrages and incites two groups of regulars: the Rose Bowl Queens and the Tidy Bowlers. Eventually, after a two-hour show, the rebels and the Rose Bowl survive. Where were these people when San Pedro Bowl, my old hangout, ceased operation only to become the Church-of-Latter-Day-Faith-Hope-and-Charity-Apostolic-Redemption-Cathedral-of-Today-and-Tomorrow? If the pastor at that place ever knew of the goings-on in the bowling alley’s tiny bar, he’d don a hairshirt and worn-out sandals and slog his way down to Ports of Call to beg forgiveness at The Crusty Crab.

“The Rose Bowl, owned by a lady named Rose, was built in 1943,” said Gimbel. “There are 10 cast members in the play and we have two teams of bowlers who have been coming here for many years – the Tidy Bowlers and the Rose Bowl Queens… The villain comes and drinks at the bar every night, but never bowls, though he has the hots for Rose (owner). He’s also married, and in his plotting he sends Rose a bogus letter that says he’s going to condemn the Rose Bowl because he’s the building inspector.

“Everyone gets all upset; he wants to tear it down and build a high rise. He tells Rose that he can stop this letter if ‘you have a little rendezvous with me.’ Then the Tidy Bowlers and the Rose Bowl Queens get together and vow to save the place and not let this happen. It ends up being a happy ending and all that good stuff.”

To arrive at the name of the city, St. Jerome, “We spent two days going through phone books, looking at maps, and St. Jerome just sort of stuck,” said Gimbel.

“St. Jerome is a small college town,” said Hart, “not very sophisticated.”

Both call the music of the play “Rock & Bowl.”

“There are a couple country songs that are a little bit twangy,” said Hart, “but really it’s a hodgepodge; definitely country in flavor. But, we have a barbershop song, a pop doo-wop song, so it’s a little bit of everything.”

The project is a first time collaboration for the pair, though they worked together at the Norris.

“Five or six years ago we both joined the group The Harmony Carolers. We became friends when we started singing together,” said Gimbel.

Why The Lounge Theater, all the way up in Hollywood, with nothing but Lucky Strike within the distance of a Walter Ray Williams cross-alley 10-pin pick-up?

“It was through our wonderful director, Kay Cole. She suggested for the first run that we go with a little, tiny theater because it would look good if we sold it out every night… She knew the woman who owns The Lounge Theater; we saw it, we liked it, and it’s working out,” said Hart. “We went on a theater tour one day and checked out a lot of theaters in North Hollywood, Hollywood, Burbank.”

Cole has a resume much too extensive to list in these pages. As director/choreographer, she received the Playwrights Arena Award for contribution to theater. Her onstage Broadway appearances include “Three Penny Opera,” “Company,” Sweeney Todd,” “Most Happy Fells,” and more.

Any further plans if “Queens” is a hit at the Lounge?

“Not yet,” said Hart. “We’re hoping it goes on, and we think it will have a life after the Lounge; maybe not immediately, but perhaps a month or two later we may open someplace else. This won’t be the last that you see of us.”

Addressing the production, Hart said, “This time around, the music is on tracks because live musicians don’t fit into our budget, but the singers and actors that we have are so good; they will do all the harmony parts live.”

“We made three trips to Nashville,” said Gimbel. “We recorded all of the harmonies ourselves, and Barbara sang some of the songs for the demo recording. We recorded everything there and the tracks are fabulous. It’s not a real master (recording), but the sound is really good and we will sell the CDs at the performances.”

“Café Latte” is a favorite song of the show “that makes fun of all these yuppie coffee shops where the names of the drinks go on and on,” said Gimbel. Not like the emporium at the Rose Bowl, where one’s choices are “black” or “with milk.” Seventy-five cents, please.

It’s like a rap piece, describing everyone standing in line at Starbucks, waiting to order a morning espresso, who must endure the soccer mom at the counter while her spoiled 2.5 children grab the yogurt and cookies and everything else within cooler reach as she digests the chalkboard menu.

“Bone Structure” is a rock tune in which the singer contemplates Tina Turner’s thighs, Christie Brinkley’s smile, the hips of Paris Hilton and other storied body parts. “My plastic surgeon’s gonna put it all in its place.”

Gimbel has lived in the South Bay since 1961, Hart since 1991. “After beating my head against the wall with the good ol’ boys in Nashville for a long time, I decided it was time to come back to L.A.,” said Hart.

So, dig deep into your closet. Dust off the old Ebonite 14-pounder, spray some Scotchguard on those cracking leather shoes, readjust the Dick Weber wristband and head out to the Rose Bowl. It’s more fun than a five-bagger with a round of Rolling Rock on the line.

‘The Rose Bowl Queens,’ The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Preview Friday, March 5. Runs March 6 to April 11. Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 3 p.m. Tickets: $12.50 preview; $30 opening night with party; $25 general admission all other performances. For reservations call 323-960-7712.

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