Johnny Legdick is an atypical stage musical. The show’s style is childish, complete with rhyming lines, a Snidely Whiplash-esque villain, and toys that serve as props and henchmen.
The music and the show itself is far from it, with adult dialogue and costumes and the kind of true-blue guttural rock music die-hard fans have been starved for since the spread of the falling-asleep-at-the-mic sound popularized by bands like Coldplay. It’s campy and cheesy and raunchy – an adult fairy tale reminiscent of Dr. Seuss – and I loved every minute of it.
The show’s premise is simple: Johnny Legdick is a man with a birth defect – he has a leg where his penis is supposed to be. The tale is a story of triumph as Johnny vanquishes the villain, gets the girl, and finds his place in the world. The tale is told by Grandpa (Tom Carson) to his grandson Billy (Tyler Miller), who sits on his lap as he’s read a bedtime story.
Is Legdick’s birth defect based on any real-life biological deformity? Not at all! The show’s co-author and director Jimmy Karamanis sheepishly admits that the idea came from a song the show’s star and co-author Jonah Carson (son of Tom) made up and used to sing in high school.
The show, which premiered in 2015 to critical acclaim, was built around that song. Johnny Legdick has just completed its fourth run this month at Théatre Sainte Catherine, with Karamanis assuring us that it will be back. He says this run was a way of assuring the cast and crew that they could still work together after a long hiatus due to life and the COVID-19 pandemic. If what I saw was any indication, they definitely can.
Johnny Legdick is low budget, campy, and raunchy in all the right ways. The pants used to create the title character’s birth defect were made during the first run and it shows. A lot of the other costumes look cheap and hastily put together.
It’s the music and the cast and band’s unbelievable chemistry that make this show special. The band, led by musical director Macleod Truesdale, pumps out the guttural rock sounds die-hard fans of the genre have been craving in an age of cookie-cutter pop tunes.
Johnny Legdick is not for kids. There are men in lingerie and genital and sex jokes galore. Even the music played in the theatre before the show consists of covers of popular tunes like Tracy Chapman’s Fastest Car and Wang Chung’s Everybody Have Fun Tonight, with the lyrics changed to include the word “d*ck” in strategic places. Unless you want your kids to go home with a much broader, raunchier vocabulary, do not bring them.
If you love camp and are not scared of musicals, you need to see Johnny Legdick. As for those who don’t like musicals, the show is only forty-five minutes, give it a chance. It’s worth it.