Review: The First (and Last) Musical on Mars (New Rock)

     
     

Too messy, even for schlock

     
     

Gina Sparacino and Meghan Phillpp in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.

  
New Rock Theater presents
   
   
The First (and Last) Musical on Mars
   
Written by George Zarr
Directed by Kevin Hanna
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I generally love schlock musical comedy. The emotions are elemental, the humor, raw, the plots, joyfully ridiculous. Yet, is it possible for schlock to be too schlock-y, even for schlock? Of course—and as Exhibit A, I present to you The First (and Last) Musical On Mars, onstage now at New Rock Theater. New Rock rocked Chicago twice with its utterly gnarly and awesome crowd-pleaser, Point Break Live! (our review Leah Isabel Tirado in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.★★★). But it seems that they’ve taken this fledgling comedy review too early from its nest.

Written and composed by former Sirius Satellite Radio spoken word maven George Zarr and directed by Kevin Hanna (musical direction Robert Ollis), The First (and Last) Musical On Mars still looks like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when in grows up. Angel Tuidor’s costuming and Ellen Ranney’s set design suggest heavy influences from 1970’s David Bowie and Roxy Music. Indeed, the use of glitter is almost blinding. But Zarr’s musical compositions are a hodge-podge of pop and Broadway. In fact, hodge-podge is a nice way of putting it. The tune “Sweet Alien Boy” is overlaid on the chord structure of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” but its execution just doesn’t rock. The first act finale, “Sibling Rivalry”, can’t be described as anything other than a messy attempt at pop-operetta.

As space opera, The First (and Last) Musical On Mars is just too jumbled and patched together to excite. Add awkward scene transitions and the show barely holds together. But it does have a few fun and tender moments. Rock star James (Sam Button-Harrison) is forcibly teleported to Mars for the coronation of twin princesses Hendrixia (Gina Sparacino) and Hollilia (Meghan Phillipp) and, ta-da, romantic entanglements ensue. It’s certainly fab to watch the girls zoom about in their ship to the song “Retro-Rocket Warp Speed.” Once James lands, a few tender, romantic moments stand out with the coy duet between him and Holliliah with “Different Beings, Different Worlds” and Button-Harrison’s warm reprise of “You Take Me to Paradise.” It must be noted that the entire cast’s voice quality is quite above standard for musical comedy review. Now, if they only had the material to match their talents.

     
Sam Button-Harrison in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr. Meghan Phillipp and Sam Button-Harrison in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.

So far as comedy goes, Matthew Isler’s dry robot servant, Electrolux, stands out–and that’s mostly because he has great miniature signage that he flourishes most effectively. All the same, with the exception of brief one-liners like “Earth guys are easy!” the entire book badly needs a rewrite. Dallia Funkaster (Casey Kells) and Zabathoo (Leah Tirado) make decent evil villains, attempting to kill the princesses and take over Mars, but that has entirely to do with their level of enthusiasm and not the writing. Meanwhile, the Chorus (Rachel Bonaquisti, Liz Hanford, and Allison Toth) always comes across sweet and lovely, while Jonas Davidow has to be thanked just for wearing a g-string.

But it’s back to the drawing board for the creator. Or his venture into the heart of shlock will be, dare I say, lost in space.

  
  
Rating: ★½
   
  

Gina Sparacino, Meghan Phillpp, Sam Button-Harrison and Chorus Rachel Bonaquisti, Liz Hanford, and Allison Toth in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.

The First (and Last) Musical on Mars continues through June 19th at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map), with performances Fridays and Satrudays at 10pm and Sundays at 8pm.  Tickets are $15, and can be purchased by phone (773-639-5316) or online at http://www.newrocktheater.com/tickets.htm.

  
 

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REVIEW: Les Enfants Terribles: Prom Night (Red Tape)

Well, that was weird.

 

 Les enfants Terrible - Prom Night postcard

   
Red Tape Theatre presents
  
Les Enfants Terribles: PROM NIGHT
   
Directed by Keland Scher
at
St. Peter’s Church, 621 W. Belmont, FL2 (map)
through August 14  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Welcome to Senior Prom. In the sweltering St. Peter’s gymnasium, Susie Summers (Amanda Beth Miller) urges people to get on the dance floor while Eugene Shortz (Jonathan Helvey) takes pictures of couples sitting in a giant diorama of a half moon. The mood is jovial, the punch is free, and the King and Queen are about to be announced. And then the Les Enfants Terribles appear.

A clown troupe in the style of French bouffons, the dirty, deformed Les Enfants bring chaos to the controlled environment, working as a unit to desecrate all the innocent traditions of high school proms. Physical violence, sexual deviance, and a cappella arrangements of pop hits are primary method of communication for the gang, and the appeal of Prom Night lies in seeing what level of depravity they will sink to next, although the sequence with the panties is up there on the disturbing meter.

Les Enfants Terribles

As there isn’t much in the way of a story to latch onto, the humor arises out of the unnerving situations the clowns create for the audience. The talent behind Les Enfants Terribles cannot be denied. These men have amazing control of their bodies and voices, creating sounds and images that are both hilarious and creepy. Their timing is impeccable, and they clearly have a rapport that allows them to move as one and create on the fly without stumbling. Their initial entrance as a malformed brown mass moaning and wheezing as it shuffles across the floor sets the mood perfectly, preparing the audience for the bizarre experience to follow.

The weird factor of Prom Night may be a little too high for some people, and for the first ten minutes it seemed like the audience was reluctant to laugh at the action on stage. The a cappella pop music, as odd as it is, served to make the audience more comfortable with the wackiness onstage, and if that is the intended effect then bravo to Red Tape. The maybe-story of which clown will be Prom King to Mother’s (Casey Kells) Prom Queen doesn’t really provide much in the way of emotional resonance, but it sets up some fun gags spotlighting their clowning prowess. The overambitious final sequence was plagued with technical issues at the performance I attended, but the dark conclusion of the play overshadowed it with pitch black comic absurdity. As bizarre as the experience is, it’s worth going back to high school for Les Enfants Terribles: PROM NIGHT.

   
   
Rating: ★★★