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THEATER REVIEW: “Joe vs. The Volcano: The Musical” has world premiere in Coronado

Would you agree to exchange your dull, gray factory-worker life for an all-expenses-paid cruise to a South Pacific island where you will live like a king?

Don’t start packing yet; there’s more. You get to do this for five months, after which you must jump into an active volcano to propitiate the island gods of Waponi Woo.

OK, I’m cheating a little. You’ve also gotten a nebulous but fatal diagnosis of “brain cloud” and been given a mere five months to live.

This is the peculiar setup for “Joe vs. The Volcano: The Musical,” in its world premiere through July 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre. Robert Smyth directs.

Award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley wrote the screenplay for the 1990 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film, which has been adapted for the stage by Scott Hafso and Darcy Phillips. Hafso and Phillips also wrote the music and lyrics.

Joe Banks (Sean Cox) is the factory worker in this musical fable. Joe has always done what he was told – and has become a sick (not to mention cowardly, hypochondriacal and lonely) person in the process. He’s never had an adventure.

When Dr. Ellison (Jason Heil) tells him he has five months to live and should “Live It Well,” Joe summons the courage he didn’t know he had and quits – and invites office secretary Dede (Eileen Bowman) to dinner.

This is the beginning of a wild-haired adventure that will start when driver Marshall (Antonio “TJ” Johnson, in a gem of a scene) takes him to get some new duds (after all, “It’s The Clothes That Make The Man”) and (almost) end with the leap into that volcano.

Along the way, he’ll meet the colorful natives of Waponi Woo, find increasingly adventurous girlfriends (all played splendidly by Bowman) to match his spiffy new threads, and discover a reason to live, love and be grateful.

“Joe” is an amusing if slight piece of musical theater with a blockbuster cast and boffo production values, beginning with the technology needed to make every seat in the house shake when a typhoon hits the island.

Jeanne Reith’s costumes go from corporate gray to island wild as Joe’s mood becomes more colorful. Michael McKeon’s projections add depth and texture, as does the sound design (by Stephanie Celustka) and Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s SFX sound design. Nathan Peirson’s lighting adds atmosphere as well.

Kudos to the four-man band (Taylor Peckham, Rik Ogden, Dave Rumley and Oliver Shirley) and to musical director Jon Lorenz as well.

Mike Buckley’s set is minimal – generic two-story scaffolding with staircases on both sides – but with locale shifts from New York to Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean to Waiponi Woo, depending on furniture and projections to indicate location is required.

Cox is usually seen in the classics (he and his wife Christy Yael run Intrepid Shakespeare Company in Encinitas), but he proves equal to the task, and makes a great foil for Bowman, one of the best musical comedy actors around.

Most of the cast play multiple roles; all are splendid actors, and Colleen Kollar Smith has given them some fine choreography as well.

With a few exceptions (“It’s The Clothes That Make The Man,” “Live Like A King” and the pensive “Away From The Things Of Man”) the songs are unmemorable, though serviceable.

The film was a box-office flop, perhaps because of its glacial pacing and because the tonal shift from meditations on life to madcap dancing with the natives is a bit disorienting.

“Joe vs. The Volcano: The Musical” will probably never become a musical theater classic, either. But it’s a fun ride, and Lamb’s gives it a terrific production.

The details

“Joe vs. The Volcano: The Musical” plays through July 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619-437-6000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.