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Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

What does an airheaded, “good” girl from Beaverton Jesuit High School do when she wants to be a Dallas Cowgirl professional football team cheerleader, and she gets accepted, but doesn’t have the money to get from Oklahoma to the big city?  She and her cheerleading friends, of course, turn to prostitution.  That, at least is the premise of the classic porn flick DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, as well as the musical based on that flick.  The latter is now on stage at Blank Canvas.

DEBBIE DOES DALLAS is a 1978 porno film which starred the infamous Bambi Woods, she of well endowed mammary glands and long blonde hair. The flick was one of the most important releases during the “Golden Age of Porn,” and remains one of the best-known films of that genre.

Ironically, Woods tried out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, in real life, but was cut during auditions.

Starting at the New York Fringe Festival, the musical, which has a book by Susan Schwartz and music by Andrew Sherman, Tom Kitt and Jonathan Callicutt, was optioned by Araca, the New York producing firm headed by Clevelanders Mathew and Michael Rego and Hank Unger.  The trio also produced URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL, WICKED, FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE de LUNE, and ROCK OF AGES.

DEBBIE opened off-Broadway in 2002, became a cult hit, and has been produced in Australia, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In the musical, we find Debbie Benton yearning to fulfill her life-long dream of wearing the white and blue star and fringe covered brief uniform of her beloved Cowgirls.  Debbie enlists her cheermates to get jobs to help her get enough money to go to Dallas.  But, of course, with a two-week deadline, and only minimum wage jobs available, they are quickly frustrated.  Debbie’s boss, Mr. Greenfelt, advises her and the other girls to transfer their Teen Services “business” into a “sex for hire” operation.  As happens in all good porn flicks, the girls hit the jackpot!

For the pure at heart, as is common with productions of this show, there is no actual sex or full nudity.  Well…there is enough suggestion that the opening night audience, mostly twenty-somethings, whooped and hollered during the towels-only locker room scene, male flashing, the several simulations of oral sex, the female-on-female clothes on orgy, female frontal penetration with a banana, a wet t-shirt car wash, the horny football players attempts at teenage groping…okay, there is enough going on that the Romney/Ryan folk headed for the doors about fifteen minutes into the 90-minute intermissionless show.

Wisely, director Pat Ciamacco has the cast playing real, rather than broadly over acting.  This technique makes the obvious story line, with its sexual innuendoes, properly ridiculous.  No, this is not Shakespeare or Noel Coward, but low farce, intended to offend the purist, and delight the lecherous.

Musical Director Lawrence Wallace and his band play well, but the music, like the script, is not meant to be great.  Come on, the quickly forgettable songs have such titles as Bring It, Pep Rally, The Locker Room Orgy, Ten Dollars Closer, God Must Love a Fool, and Dallas…I’m Coming (and, yes, that’s sung in a high pitched vocal frenzy!).  This is not the likes of I Am What I Am, What I Did for Love, or We Go Together.  Though the intent may be somewhat the same, the effect is different.

Leslie Andrews looks and sounds like the air-headed “good” girl Debbie.  She has a nice singing voice and the right vacant look.  Tasha Brandt is slut right as Lisa.  Ashley Conlon is fine as the geeky, uptight Tammy. Becca Frick is right on track as Roberta, the blonde bimbo, and Jordan Renee Malin does justice to the role of Donna.  Doug Bailey, Pat Miller and Bill Reichert, in and out of their clothes,  play all of their multi-roles as hormone hopping football jocks and the men in the lives of the cheerleaders, with the right farcical air and mustaches falling off, to the delight of the viewers.

The production lags due to long set and costume changes, and languid pacing, but the overall effect, at least judged by the opening night audience, is positive.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  DEBBIE DOES DALLAS is the kind of show that will entertain some, irritate others, titillate some, offend others.  The script, the production, and the concept has all the makings of a cult musical (think—THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW), mainly aimed at a young, hip audience.

DEBBIE DOES DALLAS runs though December 22 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  (My GPS was of little help).  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to