Brenda, Brandon, Dylan, Kelly, Donna, Steve, Andrea, David. Need I go on?
For devoted fans of the 1980s hit Fox series “Beverly Hills 90210” the aforementioned list is music to their ears.
‘BEVERLY HILLS 90210: THE MUSICAL’ When: Sept. 13-17 Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut Tickets: $32-$97 Info: broadwayinchicago.com
And now it really is music, thanks to Bob and Tobly McSmith’s “90210: The Musical,” the Off-Broadway hit parody winding its way to Chicago for a limited run beginning Sept. 13 at the Broadway Playhouse.
Bob and Tobly, the writing/composing dynamos behind a bevy of TV parodies including “Bayside! The Musical,” “Full House! The Musical!,” “Showgirls! The Musical!,” and more recently “Katdashians! The Musical!,” (“Friends! The Musical!” is slated to open Off Broadway next month) have set their eyes on the most famous television zip code in history. With music by Assaf Gleizner, and direction and choreography by Donald Garverick, “90210” is a zany trip down memory lane, landing in the 1980s as twins Brenda and Brandon arrive in the posh California enclave, fresh from their wholesome Minnesota existence. The musical focuses on the first three years of the series, which ran for 10 seasons on Fox.
Created by the late Aaron Spelling, the show starred his real-life daughter Tori, in the role of Donna Martin. And until the show’s auditions over a year ago, her character was to be played by a female. That is until Caleb Dehna stepped up to the plate at the casting call.
Born and raised in Downstate Denton (“I always say Carbondale because it’s the biggest town near Denton”), Dehne said he was auditioning for the role of Brandon when he was asked to read a passage from the script written for Tori.
“To be honest, at that point I had never seen ‘90210,’ ” Dehne said. “And that was the joke. But I watch anything Tori Spelling does! Her reality show was very high on my radar. We got to talking in the audition room and I made a joke about Tori, and on the spot they asked me to read for her part because they said it would be really funny. And that was it. They told me I had the part of Tori/Donna. So I bought Tori’s books and really studied her to come to know and understand her from her point of view.
“What made it easy to imitate this iconic person is that she loves to make fun of herself. In a parody, that can be half the battle.”
Dehne got his undergraduate degree from Kentucky’s Murray State University, where he majored in music education. “I thought an education degree would be great to have. And while I was there I got to study in Germany for two years at the International Performing Arts Institute. I realized there that I didn’t want to teach music, I wanted to be in musical theater.”
His voice teacher in Germany encouraged him to move to Massachusetts and study at the Boston Conservatory. He graduated from the prestigious institution with his MFA in 2016. Not long after, he moved to New York, where “90210” kicked off his professional musical theater career.
Playing one of his real-life idols does have its challenges, Dehne said. “Donna was not a fashion icon on the show,” he said. “But I was talking with the costumer one day and said we need to make her look fabulous! And it wasn’t until I put on this beautiful wig that we found ‘Tori.’ Our goal was to make her look super ridiculous for the parody, but keep her beautiful.”
The show also marks Dehne’s first foray into drag.
“I can barely put on lipstick. I had no idea it’s such a process being a woman,” Dehne said with a hearty laugh. “I was so lucky that for the first week of the show we had an amazing costumer and someone who did my makeup. (He’s done it all on his own ever since that week.) I was now a beautiful Tori drag queen.
“And yes, I do have to shave my chest and legs for the role,” Dehne continued. “I’m a very hairy person by nature, so this whole process takes hours! And it’s not fun!”
While playing Tori/Donna taps into his female side, Dehne said there’s one role he definitely wants to add to his resume.
“I really want to play a villain. I’d love to play Jafar [in ‘Aladdin’]. He’s so lanky!”