by littlesoprano

I’m an actress, and one part that I’d love to play is—you guessed it—our favorite Scooby character, Velma Dinkley.  Though a little miffed that I missed the auditions (which presumably were a few years ago) I decided to go see the touring production of Scooby Doo Live in Stage Fright nonetheless.  After the popularity of the live action movie, this show (which I think had an earlier run a couple of years ago) has been revived, and I was happy to find out that it would be showing at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.  (Yes, that’s where they do the Academy Awards—nice place!)  I quickly got some good tickets and was anxiously awaiting the show date, but as the day got closer, some of my family and friends started encouraging me to take the event a step further—namely… why not go as Velma?

Actress and Velma fan or no, I wasn’t too sure about this prospect at first.  I have a Velma outfit (blends in nicely with my usual 60s wardrobe of flares and peasant blouses!) but it requires me to wear a wig and the whole nine yards.  Plus, I figured it would draw a lot of attention.  Finally, though, everyone convinced me… and well, I am an actress, and we do like attention after all.  So, I did it.[1]

            What a great time!  I’m telling you—if you want to feel loved at a Scooby show, just dress as Velma!  (Okay, so any of the characters would probably work.)  I posed for pictures, talked to lots of little kids who beat back the shyness and came up to me (and waved to some who didn’t.)  The vendors were the best.  When I went up to pay for a souvenir book, I was met with fun comments like—“Hey, Velma, aren’t you supposed to be on stage?”  Ah, yes, it was fun.  The only drawback was the glasses, which are huge.  Because I couldn’t find any clear glass ones, I had to go with reading glasses, albeit with the lowest possible magnification.  I don’t wear glasses, however, so actually looking through this pair made my vision swim.  (The escalator, needless to say, was NOT a fun experience.)  I was in the midst of trying to adjust them when a large group of kids came up to me, and when someone commented on my struggle, I replied in Velma’s voice—“My glasses, I can’t see WITH my glasses!”  Blank looks from the kiddies, but the adults around got a laugh.

            Amusing as all this was, I’m sure you’re anxious for me to move on with the actual show, so here goes.  Our seats were very close to the front, and we had just settled in when the lights started to dim, revealing a glowing Scooby tag on the curtain, followed by some impressive lightening flashes that managed to scare more than one of the younger children in the audience.  The curtain rose, revealing a misty stage on which the silhouettes of our favorite mystery gang were visible, frozen into some very exaggerated creeping poses.  (How the actors kept their balance like that is beyond me!)  Then, with the start of a rousing rendition of the Scooby theme song, the gang sprang to life amid some serious cheering and clapping from the audience!  I have to admit that I don’t know if Scooby himself made an appearance right then (I was more interested in watching my favorite characters, the human members of the gang) but I think he actually made his big entrance a few seconds later.  Since you’re probably wondering how Scooby was played on stage, I’ll go ahead and mention that he was an actor in a flexible bodysuit and Scooby head.  The voice was done, as I understand it, by two other actors offstage.  That said, I’ll return to the opening, which I have to say was one of the highlights for me.  During the song, the gang was chased around by some of the more recognizable ghosts from the cartoon series (Redbeard the Pirate was one) and did some wild dancing (especially Velma—she can really boogie in this show!)  The song ended with the gang driving up in a full-size Mystery Machine!  Yup, I was impressed. 

After the great opening, the plot took a little long to develop at first.  I won’t give away the whole story, but it’s your basic Scooby—the gang is visiting the set of Daphne’s uncle’s movie but a ghost is upsetting things.  (Funny how it is always an aunt or uncle involved in these operations.  Doesn’t the gang have any cousins?  Grandparents?  Ah well.)  There is a tempestuous diva who walks out, a “vampire” with the purposely overdone evil laugh, stolen jewels, a missing will, kidnappings, splitting up, the creepy “Old Man” character, and the first act ends with a plot staple—Daphne getting captured.  (This results in some very funny falling downstairs by Daph.)  In the end you have the classic “Fred plan” that doesn’t quite work, they unmask the villain, and then laugh at corny jokes.  It’s all there!  One other bonus (unless you’re a Vel/Shaggy romantic) is a romance for Shaggy with the assistant director, Kim.  It’s not too developed (at 90 minutes, this is a short show—those kiddie attention spans being what they are) but they do sing a cute duet in the middle, complete with psychedelic hearts and peace signs swirling in the background.  It was a recognizable song, but unfortunately I don’t remember what it was.  I would have preferred to have seen some Velma and Shaggy singing instead (or some Velma/Fred!) but alas—no romance there.  I’ll cover this more in a bit…  My one general plot complaint was that there was a longish stretch in the middle with lots of Shag and Scoob but very little of my favorite characters, Freddy and the girls.  This is in keeping with the cartoon, though—nothing new.

As I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, I’ll detail instead the general style of the show.  One of my favorite things about this production was that from the get-go, it was like an episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? come to life.  (Though, strangely enough, Zombie Island was mentioned during a sequence in which Shaggy takes Velma to “court” for her measly Scooby Snack bribe!)  The incidental music is identical, the costumes are straight from the original series, and there are numerous nods to the cartoon-y staples of that show.  The bats, the gang’s eyes glowing in a dark room, the flashlights… they’re all there.  Shag and Scooby gorge themselves on impossibly large meals and walk away with huge stomachs, dress up in a plethora of different costumes, and “shake and shiver” with gusto.  A comic highlight that was adapted straight from the cartoon was the cowardly pair running in place (with the appropriate sound effect, of course,) doing their chicken impersonations, but unable to move because Velma is holding them back!  There is also the requisite chase scene (more than one, actually) complete with hiding behind gravestones and running in and out of a series of doors.  Of course, no Scooby show would be complete without our favorite brainiac losing her glasses!  This bit was fun, because after the glasses were back on (I don’t remember if she found them or if the ghost put them back on for her, but I think it was the latter,) Vel couldn’t seem to figure out that the ghost was still lurking behind her!  The audience was yelling out all manner of cues, and when she did finally turn around her shriek was pretty impressive.  The only cartoon elements that weren’t there (and that I would have liked to see) were the gang running by the same scenery constantly, and Velma picking up the entire gang!  (The closest is when Freddy picks up both girls at once—yes, he’s quite the stud!)

Now on to my favorite part—the acting!  The main thing about it is that it is purposely VERY cartoon-y and so VERY overdone in that respect.  All of the actions are big, the character’s motions (especially Shaggy’s distinctive walk) are played larger, all emotions are exaggerated—it’s pretty much overacting, but done for a purpose, so it works.  (I have to admit that this got on my nerves a few times though, particularly in the beginning of the show.)  Partly this is to match the cartoon quality and partly to communicate with the kids, who make up the main audience.  Because of this, all of the show was incredibly physical, and the actors were obviously athletic.  The characters often came flying into the stage (Daphne did a cartwheel on hers.) Velma did some backflips during the opening and closing songs (resulting in her glasses literally flying from her face the second time —not quite sure if that was intentional, actually—but Shaggy went and put them back on for her—very sweet.)  The characters often jumped up on one other, swung out of the Mystery Machine, and reacted to physical elements like wind machines and loud shouting (Velma and Shag were almost totally bent over backward at several points—very impressive.)  Daph and Vel do karate moves.   There was also a fair amount of dancing, especially during the opening, during one big song, and again at the end.  None of the characters really danced together with the exception of Shaggy and Scooby, and Velma and Daphne for a little bit, but each character had their own individual moves.  Shaggy sort of flailed around, I don’t remember what Fred did, and Daphne did the Swim and the Egyptian.  Velma danced far better in this show than she ever did in the cartoon—and with a LOT more hip involved. (You’d think that’d be Daphne, but…)  Her Monkey wasn’t bad, either.  During some of her more enthusiastic dancing, you almost got the idea that she was playing it up on purpose—sort of a ‘wink wink’ for the audience.

I’m sure what you really want to know about are the characters—how were they portrayed in this version?  As I mentioned before, the title character was an actor in a Scooby costume—tight bodysuit and the Scooby head.  He did the classic Scooby actions to perfection—though the one that got the most laughs was him doing kissing motions in reaction to Shag’s crush on Kimmy.  You also had to admire how quickly he changed into tons of different costumes.  The voice was done by two actors offstage (I think) and while there were a few lines that sounded a bit “off” to me, overall it was excellent.  The only point that I thought drew away from Scooby’s believability was that he was often standing upright on two legs.  I know that this was probably unavoidable, but it was distracting at times.

As for the human characters, I have to say that Shaggy was the most impressive, and the closest to the cartoon.  This may have been in part because Shaggy in the cartoon was the most “out there” character, and this fact lent itself well to the overplayed style of the show.  However, the actor just plain nailed the portrayal as well.  Not only did he look like his cartoon counterpart (he was very cute, I’ve gotta point out!) but he had the voice down perfectly, and we all know how crucial that is.  He also had the loping walk, though it was really played up in the show and exaggerated to comic proportions.  His and Scooby’s interactions were terrific, and he also did some improv that I thought was seriously funny (especially some of the ones he said under his breath!)

Fred and Daphne I think would have been the hardest characters to do well in this show because they are the “straight” characters in the cartoon.  In a really played-up show like this was, playing Fred and Daph just as they were in the cartoon would be pretty much impossible.  Daphne came through the best of these two, because in a way there is a lot of overplayed stereotype around that character that the actress used—i.e. standing with one hip out, the comments about messing up her hair, and Daph’s danger prone nature.  Daphne also gets to stand in for the leading actress on the movie set, so she gets to dress up in the elaborate costumes and makeup (much to she, Fred’s and surprisingly enough, Velma’s delight.)  Though she did have a few “dippy” moments, the character’s warm, loving nature was also brought out.

Fred I think had the hardest job, again because his character contrasts with the nature of this show.  He was very overplayed in his leadership of the gang, and, like in the live-action movie, he did come off as dim at some points.  One of the ways to get around the fact that Fred really wasn’t one of the humorous characters on the show is to poke fun at him, and there is a good deal of this.  For instance, his trap plan in this show is extremely farfetched and impossible (something about creating a hurricane by slamming doors in a certain order) and when Velma points this out, he comes up with another one, saying something about needing only an electric fan (I think it was a fan) and ‘200 gallons of vanilla pudding!’  It was pretty hysterical, actually.  As mentioned before, though, Fred is quite the manly man, and gets some attention from the leading actress in the movie.  She’s totally taken with him (albeit with some funny jokes about his ascot), which makes Daphne jealous!

And of course, there’s our personal heroine,Velma!  Let me assure you all that she came off great in this show, though the “big” acting style did affect her character, too.  Velma’s usual sarcastic reserve just wasn’t going to play in a show like this, and a result she comes off as less confident, even a little nervous and whiny at times.  I am going to stick up for my fellow actress here and say that this wasn’t her fault—again, it was the style.  Velma also comes off as a little bit younger than she’s been played recently.  I am happy to note that there were still some zingy lines written for her, and the actress did a good job with Velma’s sharp humor at these points, as she did with Vel’s sometimes bossy nature towards Scoob and Shag.  Velma also wouldn’t be complete without her very occasional but fiery bursts of temper, and at one point the gang was holding her back while she lunged and swung in the direction of the ghost!  (She was yelling something about “nobody crosses Velma Dinkley and gets away with it!)  Naturally, she was very much the smarty-pants, figuring out the mystery and skeptically examining Freddy’s plans, but was still likeable.

On the more basic levels… the actress looked very much like the cartoon Velma come to life— more really than Linda Cardellini, though I don’t mean any slight on Linda![2]  Everything was there—the pageboy haircut, the glasses, the outfit—and her face just looked like Velma’s, too.  (Actually, she didn’t look much like she does in the publicity photo to me, though it’s the same actress.  I noticed that pretty quickly.)  Her voice was good, too—very youthful and nasal.  She didn’t do the Velma inflection, but it was definitely a “Velma voice.”

Lastly, I know the other big question is… what about all the “inside” Scooby humor?  Well, honestly there wasn’t much, and most of it centered around Fred (the ascot jokes, for instance.)  Probably the biggest “adult” joke was when Velma suspiciously questions Fred about what happened with he and Daphne in a storage closet (from whence she was captured) and he sighs and says “absolutely nothing.”  This whooshed right over the kids’ heads, but the adults were laughing.  I should add here that a Fred/Daphne romance is definitely alluded to in this production!  There also were indications by the writer of the show in an article I read that an enduring Velma rumor is hinted at in this show.  I won’t go into detail on this, but I will say that it was too obvious for my taste.  It’s really interpretation, though (more of a joke on the rumor itself than an actual statement of fact) so it’s nothing that kids are going to pick up on.  This is very much a family show, and parents should have no reservations about the content.  It’s good clean fun.      

            I’ll let that lead into one final note—a recommendation!  Despite a few quibbles that I had with the show, I’m giving it a good review and encourage all of you Scooby fans of any age to go see it!  It was well wroth the price of tickets and made for a great afternoon of entertainment.  The audience that I attended with was truly into the show—interacting with the characters, giving rousing applause at the curtain call, and leaving the auditorium with smiles on their faces!  In short, if you can, go see it.

            And, as I found out, dressing up as one of the characters makes it that much more fun…  !

[1] Note: I have since done this a few more times.  Last Halloween it was hard for people to recognize me—I am the polar opposite of Velma looks-wise in “real life.”

[2] When it comes to portrayals of Velma, I’m very pro-Linda Cardellini.  Come to think of it, this site seems pretty darned pro-Linda Cardellini.

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