How far would you go to chase your dream?
That’s the question small town girl Debbie Benton grapples with in the Vancouver stage production Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical.
Unlike its namesake —the 1978 pop culture porn flick —this production is relatively tame. There’s no nudity or graphic sex but it is racy, entertaining and humourous with short skits, simulated sex and sexual innuendo, and campy with satirical songs and whimsical dance routines.
“Nobody’s gonna leave this show thinking, ‘Wow, how will I be better to my children when I go home?’ because it’s not about that,” says director Randie Parliament of Pickled Productions. “It’s about keeping very upbeat. When people leave the theatre, they’re going to acknowledge the fact that it was a fun show, [and] it was worth the night out.”
This quirky musical is about a group of 18-year-old cheerleaders who band together to raise money to send Debbie, their head cheerleader, to Texas to become a Dallas Cowgirl.
At first, the girls work odd jobs after school, barely making any money. When they discover what a goldmine the sex trade is, their world opens up to new adventures.
But for some, it’s a struggle with their morality and sexual boundaries.
Tammy, played by Claire Lindsay, has a secret crush on the virginal Debbie (who’s saving herself for marriage), and comically gets excited during warm-up routines with her fellow cheerleaders.
There’s clearly a sexual undertone between the cheerleaders but not much girl-on-girl action. There are more sexual scenes between the girls and the football players, or the men paying for “services.”
“We’re trying to create quality theatre that does not limit us or alienate us from the rest of society,” says Parliament, an Edmonton native. “We’re not just going to do a raunchy gay-club scene number for the sake of doing something that is exclusively gay. We’re doing a show and promoting ourselves as a gay theatre company. And frankly, 75 percent of our audience is straight.
“My gay numbers are not huge but my gay content is always huge,” notes Parliament, adding “it’s the straight community that is always embracing what I’m doing, understanding that I’m doing it with a gay-positive message.”
On opening night at the Media Club, several straight couples packed the capacity-filled room.
One young man heckled and cheered every time the cheerleaders had any touchy-feely encounters. He’d scream “yes” or “oh yeah, baby” as if in gynie row at a strip club.
It was ironic that those there to see tits-and-ass only got a glimpse of a man’s bare butt, and for some audience members, a penis, when Adam Lolacher’s towel fell off during a scene.
“We know that we are going to get a different crowd; the crowd that rarely goes to see theatre, the crowd that likes a bit of shock value,” predicted Parliament, musing about drawing an audience familiar with Debbie Does Dallas, the porn film. “And we definitely know that the typical theatre crowd is gonna come to see our show.”
Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical is the 13th show by Pickled Productions since its 2002 inception.
“I do run a gay-positive theatre company but we are not a gay-exclusive theatre company. I don’t think we should pigeonhole ourselves into one category and that we can only do one line-up of shows,” Parliament contends. “Debbie Does Dallas is a musical. Let me tell you, as a gay man, there’s nothing more queer than a musical onstage. It’s campy, it’s fun and it’s like a cheerleading movie brought to life.
“The main thing about Debbie Does Dallas —if you take away the sex and the music —you get to a heartfelt story,” he continues. “It’s about somebody wanting to follow their dreams; somebody who sees what they want to be, and they go after it. It’s a very wholesome story.”
Parliament admits it was a challenge putting the production together.
“We did have actors who requested auditions but then found out that it was based on a porn and cancelled their auditions or didn’t show at all.”
Penticton-born actress Jamie Robinson literally went “from Disney to Debbie,” her previous role being Princess Jasmine in a pantomime production of Aladdin.
“I was one of those people that knew Debbie Does Dallas was this famous movie but I didn’t really know it was a porn,” said Robinson who plays Debbie.
“I signed up to go for the audition because my friend was going and wanted me to come. Then I rented the movie and watched it by myself and was like, ‘What is this?’ [But] I talked to friends about it.
“The audition process went really well and Randie put us all at ease,” Robinson recalls, adding that “once we saw the script, it was just so great.”
Besides renting the movie, what did Robinson do to prepare for Debbie?
“A lot of head, obviously,” she joked.
“No, I think in a lot of ways, Debbie and I are actually quite similar —minus the sex area,” Robinson confesses. “I grew up in a small town wanting to go to a bigger city to do acting and theatre. I really didn’t want to stay in my small town and was pretty determined to get out of there, and left right after high school.”
Parliament understands that calling.
“We do work that speaks from the heart, whether that’s a gay heart or a straight heart, it’s just all about performance and creativity.”