WHAT: The Saved by the Bell Show!
WHERE: Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
WHEN: 10 p.m., May 3-5 and 10-11
The heart wants what it wants, and for many, that’s a “Saved by the Bell” reunion. Sure, some of the cast went on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and did a spread in “People,” but the nation’s appetite for “Saved by the Bell” is insatiable.
Unfortunately, between Dustin Diamond’s second career as an adult film actor, the horror of “Showgirls” and other acting commitments, a proper reunion is near impossible, and watching alternating episodes “Franklin and Bash” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” isn’t doing the trick.
But fear not Bayside Tigers: Minneapolis theater troupe Dana’s Boys deliver the next best thing. The group has performed episodes of “Saved by the Bell” on stage at Bryant-Lake Bowl five times in the last four years. They always adapt “Jessie’s Song” — the infamous caffeine pills episode — and one other.
Brad Erickson, who directs the show and plays Mr. Belding, was inspired to put “Saved by the Bell” on stage while he was in college after hearing about a theater in Chicago performing old episodes of “The Brady Bunch.”
“‘In my head I’m like, ‘What’s going to be the next ‘Brady Bunch?’’’**** Erickson said. “I thought it was probably going to be ‘Saved by the Bell’ because it was one of those guilty pleasures that everyone was always quoting.”
This time, Dana’s Boys is performing the season two episode “Breaking up is Hard to Undo,” which features a series of arguments that divide the gang along gender lines. The guys (and Mr. Belding) bro down with some ’Za and later put on a “What I Should Have Said Theater” to make up with the girls. The show-within-a-show adds a new meta-textual dimension to the performance and finds Slater in a leotard.
The group also performs their own period-appropriate commercial breaks. The ads turned out to be a big hit, and Erickson has added more to the show each time.
“That’s the biggest response we usually get,” Erickson said. “The show’s still on, so you might have seen it recently, but a lot of these commercials people haven’t seen in 20 years.”
University of Minnesota alum Cody Sorensen plays Zack in the stage version. He grew up watching the show after school and jumped at the chance to revive it on stage.
“Once I knew we were doing ‘Saved by the Bell’ I was so excited,” he said. “I had to do it.”
Sorensen said that he, Erickson and the other performers strive to put on a show that is true to the characters, although they aren’t afraid to affectionately poke fun at the series’ melodramatic, “Very Special Episode” elements.
“We certainly get enjoyment out of the cheesiness,” Sorensen said. “I mean, who gets addicted to caffeine pills?”
The on-stage “Saved by the Bell” cast also includes prolific character actor Patrick Thomas O’Brien reprising his role as Mr. Dewey, the Ben Stein-type math teacher from the original series. O’Brien got involved in the show when he saw a casting call for his own character online. The stage show is uniquely suited to position O’Brien as a celebrity, which he said is unfamiliar territory.
“What was odd was the first rehearsal we did,” he said. “We did the scene and everyone was quiet afterwards, and I thought ‘Well, they don’t like what I did or they’re disappointed,’ but then they all burst into applause.”
After the show, O’Brien signs headshots and takes pictures with fans, despite only appearing in four episodes. He originally saw “Saved by the Bell” as a one-off job and said he was surprised when it took off.
“When we did the first episode I thought ‘Well, the kids are good but the script is pretty weak,’”***** he said. “I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere but boy, I was proven wrong. It turned out to be kind of the defining show of that generation.”
But it’s not the quality of the jokes or tightness of the plotting that brings audiences out to see the stage performance of “Saved by the Bell.” The show might not have been high quality in any conventional sense, but it’s certainly of its time, and that appeal will always bring out twenty- or thirty-somethings — and even their parents — to recreate the bygone era of taping with a live studio audience.
“A lot of the audience has seen every episode multiple times, so sometimes they’ll actually be saying the lines along with us,” Sorensen said. “When Jessie and Slater kiss, the audience woos. When there’s a diss they yell, ‘ooh!’ That’s always really exciting.”
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