'Champions' Are Champs In A Very Special Way

By Dana Casadei

After winning Planet Ant's Colony Fest this past summer, "Champions," written by the improv troupe Question Marky Mark and directed by Lauren Bickers, kicked off Planet Ant's Late Night series Oct. 26, giving the audience huge laughs in not much time.

Now if this had been a drama or musical this would be the part where I criticize that having a one-act show run only an hour long leaves the viewers wanting more. I would say things about there being no character development or the plot resolved issues too quickly or tried to cram too much in the time frame. But that's not the case here.

There isn't a need for long, dragged-out stories. This is a show that knows what it is and what its audiences want: something short, simple and sweet. Well, maybe not sweet, but it sure is damn funny.

The plot, as mentioned above, is simple. Champions owner, Lenny (R.J. Cach), is leaving to pursue his music career and must decide between Amy (Amber Hunt) and Jeff (Travis Pelto) for who will be his successor. Turns out neither Amy nor Jeff want to be manager of the valet company, so what do they do? Try to make the other look great by making themselves, as Jeff puts it, "look like shit." What ensues is like a montage of the things they do to make the other look good; most are pretty simple, but all are hilarious.

Underneath all the hilarity is a show that anyone that doesn't have it all figured out can relate to, asking questions such as when is it time to finally get your stuff together and grow up? When's the moment that you finally become - gulp - a grown up?

Hunt's Amy is the perfect mix of Amy Poehler's "Kaitlin" chattiness from SNL with the dance moves of Tina Fey's Liz Lemon on "30 Rock." Pelto's Jeff is sarcastic and snarky but played with extreme likeability, especially every time he tells his gymnastics story.

Now for Champions owner Lenny, who just needs the cop uniform and he would have fit perfectly on Comedy Central's "Reno 911." Cach, to put it plainly, is a scene-stealer as the mustache-totting, Freddie Mercury-obsessed, lover of Neve Campbell weirdo. And I use weirdo in the kindest sense of the term. The moments when he "prays" to Freddie Mercury, often done quoting Queen, earned some of the biggest laughs of the evening.

Something else done really well with "Champions" is the constant pop culture references, ranging from HBO's "Game of Thrones" to playing Bloody Mary. Some of my favorites were Jeff discussing why the 1993 Halloween film "Hocus Pocus" is indeed a scary movie, and when Snake Pitt (Aaron Johnstone) comments on the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul's stories he's currently reading.

"Champions" isn't a perfect show by any means, there were a few line slip-ups on opening night and the set isn't anything to take note of, but neither are its characters. It makes up for any moments that seem off with the tale of these four very special "champions."



Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck. 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Nov. 10. $10. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com

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