By John Young
Updated October 11, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Craig Schwartz

I've Never Been So Happy

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  • Stage

As far as I’m aware, no other musical features a mountain lion singing a heavy metal tune. Among the sillier things you’ll ever witness, I’ve Never Been So Happy — now running through Oct. 23 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif. — wears its own absurdity proudly. The Western musical feels like the late-night, Mountain Dew-fueled creation of some clever 12-year-olds, and whether that’s a compliment or a criticism will depend on one’s willingness to adjust to the show’s nonsensical antics. As for me, Happy lassoed my admiration.

Produced by Rude Mechs, a collaborative theater company based in Austin, Happy juxtaposes two stories set in the present-day Lone Star State. In one, a young woman named Annabellee (Meg Sullivan) is forbidden to leave home until she finds a husband. Annabellee and her stern dad, Brutus (Lowell Bartholomee), host a televised ”Country & Western” variety show along with their pair of dachshunds (Jenny Larson and Paul Soileau, thankfully not dressed as dogs). And yes, the hounds sing, too.

The other narrative follows Jeremy (E. Jason Liebrecht), who is exiled from his mother’s women-only commune upon his 18th birthday. Instead of simply banishing Jeremy, though, his nature-loving mom (a splendid Cami Alys) ties him to the last mountain lion in Texas to teach the boy ”how to be wild.” Such is life.

Annabellee and Jeremy inevitably cross paths, and along the way, Happy dips its musical toes into practically every genre it can locate on Wikipedia, from country and rock to classical and tribal chanting. Peter Stopschinski’s music is consistently catchy, so it’s a shame that some of his lyrics (co-written with Kirk Lynn) stoop to banal crudeness. But for every misguided song, there’s one that clicks. Take, for instance, the mountain lion’s aforementioned metal anthem, ”Don’t Know Sing,” which comically grants the cougar a limited English vocabulary. Or a poignant opera number sung by Jeremy’s mother reflecting on her shortcomings as a parent.

Throughout the production, one of the dachshunds exclaims, ”Something weird can still happen!” Ultimately, I’ve Never Been So Happy is a celebration of the odd. The musical briefly contemplates the American West’s metamorphosis from vast landscapes to Walmart parking lots, but its chief ambition is to put on an amusingly ludicrous spectacle. That festive spirit extends into the 30-minute intermission, during which the theater lobby is transformed into a Western shindig with a saloon serving margaritas and cornbread chili, a costume store where the audience can borrow cowboy garb to wear during the show, and various carnival games.

There’s even a wall of ”missing persons” posters, one of which features a photo of actor Rick Moranis. Rare is the show that can make you chuckle even during intermission. With only 18 performances, Angelenos had better hurry if they want to catch this Texan delight before it disappears into the horizon. B+

(Tickets: www.CenterTheatreGroup.org / 213-628-2772)

I've Never Been So Happy

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  • Stage

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