In the tiny Theatre 80 on St. Mark's Place, there's a certain goofy, raunchy, hilarious magic that happens on stage during Bayside! The Musical!, a raucously inappropriate (and thereby appropriately unauthorized) parody of the late-'80s/early-'90s high school sitcom Saved by the Bell. Millennials, this one's for you.
If you've never seen an episode of Saved by the Bell, you'll be utterly lost, and those with only a passing familiarity should be aware that 85 percent of the script is based on inside jokes from the show. But as long as you can recognize show locales like The Max and the beach club or storylines like Jessie's caffeine addiction, Screech's nerdy girlfriend, and Kelly's money problems, you're in for a supremely funny throwback delight. (And if you're a diehard fan like the very vocal gentleman who sat behind me, you just might think it's the greatest night of your '90s life.)
The fun is hard to pinpoint: It's not so much about the charming nostalgia (there's an entire number devoted to Trapper-Keepers) or the cast's worthy impressions of the familiar characters; rather, the giddy joy of Bayside! owes much to the nonstop pace at which the incredibly physical cast moves. The jokes come a mile a minute, and there's a feeling of low-budget intimacy that actually works in the show's favor. It's as if you're spying on an unpolished long-form improv that gets better and more ridiculous as the night roars on.
Each cast member has a moment to shine (especially the versatile Seth Blum as Mr. Belding and a host of other characters). But April Kidwell and John Duff are pitch-perfect as Jessie Spano and A.C. Slater. Kidwell is unstoppable, delivering a manic caricature of Elizabeth Berkley’s caffeine-pill-popping overachiever that becomes more brilliant as it grows increasingly more insane, culminating in a showstopping rendition of ''Rose's Turn'' that brings down the house. As her singlet-wearing boyfriend Slater, the swoonworthy Duff (a treat for both eyes and ears) is also a scene-stealer, dialing up Slater's gay undertones and offering the most accomplished musical performance of the bunch.
Saved by the Bell celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and there's no better way to recapture the over-the-top glee of the original series than this edgy parody. In the famous words of Jessie Spano, Bayside! The Musical! is certainly a reason to be so excited, so excited, so… scared. B+(Tickets: Baysidethemusical.com)