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by Rena Archwamety Beyer of the Capitol Times Sunday, December 9, 2005

Walmartopia' sings, zings

Wal-Mart is the new McDonald's.

Last year the acclaimed documentary "Super Size Me" had the fast food giant scrambling to promote a healthier image, replacing oversized fries and burgers with salads, fruit plates and walk-o-meters.

This year's documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" prompted the chain's public relations team to try to portray a more diverse, generous and community-centered company behind the trademark yellow smiley face.

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...the show is a wacky and imaginative parody of big-box culture, with catchy song-and-dance numbers and a truckload of enthusiasm from the 27-member cast.

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Helping to expose what's beneath that face is Mercury Players Theatre in its latest production, "Walmartopia."

Mercury first performed "Walmartopia" as a 40-minute mini-musical in 2004.

Now a full-length production, the show is a wacky and imaginative parody of big-box culture, with catchy song-and-dance numbers and a truckload of enthusiasm from the 27-member cast.

Part one follows the day-to-day frustrations of Wal-Mart department manager and single mother Vicki Latrell as she tries to get a promotion in the male-dominated hierarchy of her local store.

Part two shifts into a surreal glimpse of a future where Wal-Mart dominates all aspects of life from schools to the arts, and then tries to conquer its last uncharted territory by planting a superstore in Vermont. Vicki teams up with other disillusioned Wal-Mart employees to form a resistance.

Anna Jayne Marquardt is perfectly cast as the optimistic yet outspoken Vicki, and her powerful voice stands out in the demanding number of solos throughout the play. Also notable is Douglas Holtz, who puts in a short appearance as the late Sam Walton's head and leads the cast in a raucous hoedown.

The actors sweat enthusiasm, which helps to carry the show, but borders on abusive when they begin screaming their lines or occasionally just screaming. A clear political point of view runs throughout "Walmartopia" and shows its face to varying degrees of success.

The song "Nibbled to Death by Guppies," based on a quote by Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, is an inspired and hilarious number, particularly when paired with actors in metallic fish hats dancing around Frank Furrillo, who plays the slinky and villainous fictional CEO, Scott Lee.

The last few songs, unfortunately, water down the play's outrageous plot and characters to a predictable ending with syrupy lyrics like "Wal-Mart's been telling lies; Time to open some eyes."

Despite losing some of its fun at the end with overstated intentions, the musical as a whole entertains and is worth seeing, whether or not you intend to join the resistance.


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