CAMBRIDGE — If you’re a fan of National Public Radio’s popular automotive-advice show, the voices of Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the Click and Clack of “Car Talk,” are music to your ears. But apart from David Grisman’s “Dawggy Mountain Breakdown” theme song and the celestial harp that introduces the “Stump the Chumps” segment, “Car Talk” is mostly, well, talk. Now, however, with the help of Tom and Ray, who contributed their voices to the project, Wesley Savick has cobbled a wacky plot, clever song parodies, and the Magliozzis’ trademark outrageous puns into “Car Talk: The Musical!!!” And at Central Square Theater, presented by Underground Railway Theater and Suffolk University, the intermissionless, 90-minute production is running like a top. No tuneup necessary.
The plot comes right out of the kind of question that Tom and Ray field every week. Rusty Fenders (Scott H. Severance) is an overweight 40-something with a dicey heart and a dead-end job in a dump of an auto warehouse, where he labors alongside co-worker Sheila B. Goodfew (Leigh Barrett) under the unforgiving eye of owner Beaulah Gasket (Maureen Keiller). His one consolation is his 1993 Kia Pride, but it’s in the shop. Enter Miata C. LaChassis (Tiffany Chen), a curvy number in a flaming-red microdress who comes “fully loaded” and tells him, “Time for your oil change, big boy.” Rusty will get the $30,000 he needs to finance Miata if he can answer the latest Puzzler from the Wizard of Cahs (Tom and Ray in voiceover). But does he need an expensive new model when reliable Sheila — “a standard transmission in a tan or beige” — has always been there for him? Even if she does have a few thousand miles on her odometer?
Michael Wartofsky’s original songs — “Everything Might Be Looking Up,” “Mid-Life Crisis,” “Sensible Car,” “Obsolete” — are serviceable enough, but it’s Savick’s irrepressible imagination that fuels this musical. In Rusty’s opening dream, the ensemble sings an “I Hope It’s Nothing” parody of “I Hope I Get It,” from “A Chorus Line,” while holding up such identifiers as an “ACTRESS” license plate and a Mustang hood ornament. Two “Maria” parodies follow: A pair of nuns ask, “How do you solve a problem like his Kia?,” and Dream Rusty (Jonathan Luke Stevens) declares, “My Kia / I still drive my ’93 Kia.” In Rusty’s second dream, after he suffers a heart attack (yes, shades of Bob Fosse and “All That Jazz”), Savick riffs on “Annie,” “West Side Story” again (“A Car Like That”), “Guys and Dolls,” “Evita,” “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Wicked.” The Puzzler comes to life as the Phantom of the Opera; Beaulah Gasket channels the Wicked Witch of the West.
CAR TALK: The Musical!!!
On a set designed by Susan Zeeman Rogers, everything is in smooth working order. The warehouse walls are festooned with battered fenders, mufflers, hubcaps, wrenches, license plates, and steering wheels, plus a pair of elk antlers. The Wizard of Cahs is a handsome behemoth nearly 10 feet high, with headlight eyes, flexible-hose eyebrows, a bumper mouth, and a tangle of loose wires for a beard. The recorded Magliozzis themselves are in top form, and so is the cast, from the endearingly shlumpy Severance to the wistfully sympathetic Barrett to the slinkily seductive Chen. Even the sound effects are grindingly realistic. “Car Talk,” the radio show — whose hosts are retiring this fall after 35 years — has its own Director of Guaranteed Repeat Business, Lucinda Boltz. But her skills won’t be needed to bring customers back to “Car Talk: The Musical!!!”
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.