REVIEW: Musical of the Living Dead (Cowardly Scarecrow)

 

A Zombie-licious Ghoul’s Delight

 

Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 035

   
Cowardly Scarecrow Productions present
   
Musical of the Living Dead
   
Book/Lyrics by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts
Music/Arrangements by Mary Spray and
Matt Mehawich
Directed by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts
at
The Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Charnel House is certainly an apropos venue for Musical of the Living Dead: its former life was as an old-style funeral home. Gothic wood paneling and light fixtures set the right tone for Cowardly Scarecrow Productions’ ribald horror spoof depicting the dead, annoyingly, not staying dead. Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts, co-creators of book and lyrics, are the madmen behind the mayhem, aided by partners in crime Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 020 Mary Spray on music and Matt Mehawich on arrangements. What can be said about cast and crew? They come from Columbia College—or at least most of them. One suspects their cohesiveness depends, in part, on shared training and collegiate associations—if one may use that professional term.

Musical of the Living Dead lies just inches from being a musical comedy that could be juxtaposed with, quote, legitimate theater, unquote. There’s just a tinge of that vibe one finds with the sort of comedy reviews one ventures to Annoyance Theatre for—slap dash irreverence that often looks slapped together. But Spray and Mehawich’s musical arrangements reveal startling sophistication. Plus, acting, singing and dancing quality definitely soars above standard Annoyance fare. Something aspirational peeks out from Cowardly Scarecrow’s lampoon of stereotypical horror plot involving randomly thrown together people escaping zombie hoards. It’s as if they were genuinely striving to create a new Rocky Horror or Little Shop of Horrors.

Good for them that they’ve got some decent crazy ladies for whom to sell their spoof. Barbra Flowers (Jill Valentine), the show’s virgin good girl (sort of), loses her brother Johnny (Tim Soszko) to a zombie attack while trying to lay a wreath at Grampa’s (sic) grave. It’s one thing to watch Barbra unhinge at the prospect of fighting zombies from an abandoned house alongside the musical’s lone black man, Ben Blackman (Quinton Guyton). It’s another to see her get uncomfortably personal with the other fugitives–including the stuffed deer’s head on the wall–while relaying her zombie escape story. Once that happens, you know the girl is gone!

Gone is the only way to describe Helen Cooper (Mandy Whitenack), a dame who views life, and her blighted marriage, through an alcoholic haze. Warring, conservative husband Harry (Billy Sullivan) simply can’t keep up with her. Whitenack pulls out every bit of Betty Davis, Tallulah Bankhead and God-knows-what overripe-screen-star to execute Helen’s boozy domination.

 

Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 002 Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 012
Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 005 Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 021 Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 031

That leaves the rest of the cast to fill out all the other horror flick stereotypes–slutty hick sisters Judy (Liz McArthur) and Trudy McCoy (Mary Spray); Ted (Jonathan Hymen) as the closet gay dude; Fran Davis (Ashley Bush) as the Fox News journalist with over-whipped hair; and helicopter pilot Steve Sherbotsky (Ryan V. Brinkerhoff) as her lover. McArthur cleverly doubles as Karen, Helen and Harry’s little girl, who stays sick in the basement past the point of zombie return. Jacob Clausen opens the musical as George, poetically profound fright fest announcer.

That leaves our hero, Ben, to carry the day and save Barbra from imminent un-death. Most comic interactions between cast members keep the flow going and the musical energy high. However, what holds Musical of the Living Dead back is its over-reliance on typical plot developments, typical horror genre characters and typical schlock comedy splatter. Musical of the Living Dead succeeds most when it takes the audience to uncanny, unexpected places. Ben, being the lone voice of reason among a gang of crazy white people, isn’t allowed to get his Rambo on until the end. That’s really too bad. After all, between the living and the undead, there’s really only so much a brother can take.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 033

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Cupid: Plugged (The Cupid Players)

This Cupid needs to plug some holes

 

The Cupid Players

  
The Cupid Players present
  
The Cupid Players: Plugged!
  
Created by The Cupid Players
Directed by
Brian Posen
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont  (map)
through October 2  |  tickets: $18   |  more info 

Review by Barry Eitel

Relationships. Thanks to relationships, we have Michael Bolton, Shakespeare, and reality TV. It seems all art, maybe even our whole existence, boils down to human interaction. There’s bucketloads of emotions to mine.

The Cupid Players, the masterminds behind Cupid Has a Heart On (got to love those puns) which enjoys an open run at iO, know how to rip out the funny side of love and bare it on stage. Their newest venture, Cupid: Plugged! (got to love that name recognition), is part musical revue and part sketch comedy with a rock concert twist, including roadies. The Players cram a ton of material in the hour-long show. The final setlist is scattershot and disjointed, which is a shame considering the comic talent singing their hearts out.

Each number is completely different from every other one. This works perfectly on Youtube, but not so much in a live stage show. Most of the songs revolve around that crazy little thing called love (and/or sex, and/or desperate loneliness). The boys fall for the girls, the girls nag the boys for leaving towels around the home, one girl wakes up next to a really fat guy after a particularly drunk night. But the songwriters also stray from the theme, and a tune is thrown in about a young man torn between Judaism and bacon. Not that the random injections are unfunny, but they muddle the entire experience. It feels like they needed to fill a few more minutes.

cupid players logo The show is set vaguely in the Reagan era, with plenty of legwarmers, ripped t-shirts, and transition music pulled from heavy metal radio. Yet, someone sings a diddy describing his iPhone. The women claim that they are wives and mothers, but they look like they’re a couple of co-eds headed to 80’s night at the local bar. Some characters would take the show to the next level, even if they were incredibly superficial and just a way to string the songs together. But as it is, Cupid: Plugged! has no string.

The cast, which created the show, has plenty of insight into romance, love, and lust. Sometimes the concepts are simplistic, but these are usually the funniest parts. One of the sharpest moments involves Ranjit Souri sitting alone on a park bench warbling about how “sex would be fun.” A fair amount of the lyrics are duds, but on average the songs inspire much more laughter than yawns.

It helps that the cast is having a ball performing. Through all the dancing, guitar riffs, and synchronized hand movements, they keep the energy high and receptive. Some props have to be paid to Sam Lewis’ guitar antics and Billy Sullivan’s stomach-shaving. Far and above the best part of the show, though, is a 70’s pop duet between Jill Valentine and Tim Soszco, complete with ridiculous wigs and sunglasses. I’ve never actually rolled in an aisle, but I came pretty close.

Soszco and Valentine’s performance was so awesome because they created characters. If director Brian Posen and his merry crew of musical comedians came up with some plot or even an overarching idea, it could be comic bliss. The Cupid Players are without question talented; they don’t just perform sketch, they sing it. But Cupid: Plugged! feels like the Players tossed a bunch of jokes in a blender, dumped the contents out on-stage, and then set the whole thing to music. This isn’t a comedy album, it’s a live show. We want cohesion.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

cupidPlayers

Director Brian Posen is joined by Carisa Barreca, Ashley Bush, Andrew Graves, Sam Lewis, Israel Pederson, Tim Soszko, Ranjit Souri, Billy Sullivan, Jill Valentine and Amanda Whitenack.  The band includes Sam Lewis and David Hymen.