“Bayside is a school that’s cool and you know that it’s true! The girls are the cutest and the guys are the hippest too – oooh ooh ooh!!!” If that means anything to you – or better yet, if you heard it with Zack’s lemon juice-afflicted squeaking – then ‘Bayside! The Musical’ is the fun, silly as heck romp meant especially for you. If you have no idea what’s going on, you might enjoy seeing this new-to-London show, but not nearly as much. Unless you like truly vulgar, over-the-top raunch; then you will also like it a lot.
Showing this week at London’s The Other Palace Theatre in the Victoria section of town, ‘Bayside!’ is downstairs in the Studio, which I never knew existed despite having been to TOP like 50 times. It’s a tiny crowded black-box style room, with a tiny stage that has barely enough room for the prop ‘table’ (it’s a piano that goes unused) let alone for sets. The actors enter and exist through the aisle between audience members. It’s open seating (first come first get the best seats) and there’s a bar like right there. So, all of this adds to the very informal vibe of ‘we’re seeing high schoolers put on this little show they worked on so hard all semester’. And of course no, this is professional, but if you pretend it’s by high schoolers it’s a lot more impressive.
Regardless of how amateur it seems (and many of the actors’ skills do reinforce that impression), it doesn’t really matter. If you just watched a few eps of ‘Saved by the Bell’ when you were young, you’ll be all in for all the inside jokes and references that remind you of how bonkers this sitcom was, especially considering it was meant for children, and you’ll have a blast. The cast includes actors for each of the main 6 – Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie, Lisa, Screech – plus two ‘extras’ who play all the other necessary parts (Belding, Tori, Chief Henry’s ghost) and are truly the most impressive and most hilarious of the bunch. Their improved-seeming vamps during scene changes are some of the funniest parts. Ben Campbell (a great Zack) is the only American in the bunch so there were some odd attempts at the accent but I didn’t even care I was having such fun.
This parody is indeed a musical, and while you might be expecting to hear international Grammy-winning hits by the Zack Attack, or more of those school songs like I began with, they’re all original tunes, like about how Kelly is poor or about how there’s nothing sexual about the girls’ sleepover. They’re not great songs, and the lyrics often get tired, but they’re funny and their foundations are clever. Oh there is one familiar song, of course – Hot Sunday’s “Get Down and Break a Sweat”, which even in a parody show can never be as hilarious as seeing the real thing. Although, it was a nice touch to comment that yes, this pointless music video, clearly occurring just to show the girls in their underwear, did indeed air during Saturday morning children’s programming.
The best part by far was its take on two specific characters. The first is playing AC Slater as not only gay, but super raging into Zack, always trying to get Preppy into compromising situations – like he gets when he wrestles, which is why he’s the star wrestler. Every single line out of Slater’s mouth would be something dirty directed at Preppy. Almost as genius was the roadkill-looking wig the actor was wearing to resemble the young Mario Lopez. But the best take on a character, and the best most brilliant aspect of the show by far, was their portrayal of Tori Scott. Those real fans out there will remember Tori as the new girl character introduced during the ghost season – a season with absolutely no sense of time or space as relating to the other seasons, with no regard to what had happened before or where the kids were in school by this time (hint: they had already graduated), and with no mention of what happened to Jessie or Kelly, who had left the show after their characters graduated in the previous season. You know, you think ‘high school show’, you think ‘out after graduation’, so Tiffani and Lizzie bounced, but the Tori years, my goodness, were just like they were back in a second go at junior year, with proms and everything. It was amazing, and the best part was that Tori was kind of butch and badass and honestly was the Slater that Mario Lopez, and the creators, wished he could be. So of course ‘Bayside!’ had the male extra actor play Tori – a lot – by throwing an enormous blonde curly wig on and speaking with an even deeper voice than his real one. Also, this Tori had a parole officer and a bad past, and she frequently referred to her needing to score dope (but there’s no hope with dope!). It was BRILLIANT and honestly that portrayal, by William Hazell, is my top reason why fans should go see this show. I’m cracking up just thinking about it.
Another worthy take on a character was that of Violet, the super nerdy girl that Screech falls for, or that falls for Screech really, during the chorus-focused episode (The One Where They’re All Suddenly in Chorus). Violet was played by Tori Spelling because her dad owned everyone and everything and one day she was like ‘Daddy I want to be on ‘Saved by the Bell’ all my friends watch it’ and Aaron was like ‘ugh okay but you’re so annoying that I’m going to make you a love interest for Screech’. So this Violet, played by female extra Roann McCloskey (I want to say one of the few who could carry a tune?), wasn’t referred to as Violet but as Tori Spelling, because that’s really what it was, just Tori Spelling wanting to be on TV. It was a little bit overplayed (she’s in this production A LOT for someone who I think had just one episode! (memorable though it may be)), but still pretty funny overall.
One part that wasn’t overplayed and I wish they did more with it was having Lisa not know that she’s black. She never ever talks about it and no one ever mentions it on the show; it’s as whitewashed as possible while still having the actress be black. It sort of makes sense, because Lisa was originally supposed to be a JAP from Long Island (omg can I just say I am SO HAPPY that she wasn’t; can you imagine having to deal with the awful stereotypes that the shitty writers would have constantly repeated?) and so after Lark Voorhies was cast the lazy writers didn’t really change too much about the character although they were ‘supposed’ to alter her a little. So her blackness was ignored, not out of a sense of ‘oh her friends don’t see color’ but more of a ‘oh let’s just pretend she has no cultural identity of her own.’ So here, they comment on that near-erasure by having someone tell Lisa that she’s black and having her react to it. Oh my god this was hilarious and they could have done sooo much more with it. Her rap about white people things is good, and just made me want to see more as this was the one almost-sophisticated take about the whole show.
Like the jokes, the musical numbers have glimmers of brilliance but can get a little wearisome. They repeat a lot of the lyrics over and over and lose the humor that way. But the brilliant parts are what I’ll remember. The funniest song is when Kelly blithely sings about ‘Trapper Keeper Boner Hiders’, as all the boys in school have to carry their famous ‘90s binders when they see her. And my favorite rhyme in the whole show is the Act I closer, when they ask “Will Zack and Kelly be reunited? Will Jessie be…so excited?” As expected, there is a lot, maybe too much, about Jessie’s infamous caffeine pill addiction, but come on, you can’t NOT talk about that when the topic of ‘Saved by the Bell’ comes up. The most genius use of this storyline happens to be my favorite part of the whole show – but one that not many people understood, which is so sad to me as a musical theatre fanatic. So Jessie is up there on the dark stage all alone, with just a single spotlight illuminating her. The music starts to vamp, a very familiar measure of music, and Jessie quietly sings ‘Why did I do it…’ and I CACKLED. I laughed so loud and hard that people turned to look at me, people who OBVIOUSLY aren’t musical theatre fans or they would have recognized that part of Rose’s Turn from ‘Gypsy’ and joined me in recognizing how brilliant it was to use this here. SO BRILLIANT! I can’t get over it. It’s too bad the actress playing Jessie wasn’t too strong of a vocalist because I mean this is the pinnacle of musical theatre numbers and it’s kind of mean to give it to someone who is weak but still oh man this was the best ever.
Although I laughed regularly the whole time, this extra-hysterical reaction of mine was matched, almost, by one other part of the show. At the end, Screech gets struck by lightning and predicts the future. He says Jessie will do a movie that ‘shows her boobies’ and destroy her career (true), Zack will date a homeless girl (also true), and then he turns to Lisa and says ‘YOUR FACE IS GOING TO MELT OFF.’ Oh my god I died! If you have seen a picture of Lark Voorhies in the past decade you know why this is so funny and so unbelievably mean. It’s awful but I can’t stop laughing! Lisa looks concerned and says ‘my face?’ and Screech continues ‘Yes. Your face is going to melt off, it’s going to melt right off of your body.’ I couldn’t breathe.
All the fun and clever bits are sometimes overshadowed by the vulgar sex jokes, which are funny at first when you have a show this silly but it really truly goes overboard. We were the youngest people in the audience and there were all these stuffy white-haired British people sitting there and listening to really disgusting descriptions of the most crude stuff you could ever imagine and it was suuuupes aaaawk. Some of it was funny, but a good 70% of that material could be cut and the show would be better for it. There’s so much brilliance to mine in mocking this show as is; there’s no need to resort to penis jokes every other minute.
But as I shared above (oh, spoiler alert retroactively sorry), there’s plenty of hilarity going on, and fans will rejoice at an endless treasure trove of references. There’s Zack constantly stopping time with his ‘Time-outs!’, there’s Screech dressing as an old lady and having noooo one question that he is one, as happened on the show more than once. There’s shout-outs to Chief Henry (remember when Zack befriended an Indian chief?????) and Miss Bliss. There’s constant talk about how Kelly is poor, like so much. And there’s even a comment about the gang going to Hawaii, where Kelly’s grandfather lives. Remember that nonsense?? When for four or so episodes the whole gang just up and went to Hawaii for like a month? Because Kelly’s grandfather owned a hotel there? And Kelly fell for a lawyer who was trying to steal her grandfather’s business even though she was what 17 at best and the lawyer had to be at least 25 and NO ONE EVER MENTIONED how this was illegal??? Ahhhhhhhh! OMG I just found out that Kelly’s grandfather was played by Dean Jones! Dean Jones as in the original Bobby in Sondheim’s ‘Company’! Oh man writing about this show is taking me on such a roller coaster of emotions I really must stop.
‘Bayside! The Musical’ would have benefited from a good edit, but it’s overall such a funny parody of our beloved sitcom that it’s worth seeing, especially if you remember watching the show more than 20 years ago (I know) and being like, ‘wait, what?’