The Brain from Planet X
nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
September 21, 2007
A new musical has landed in the Acorn Theatre giving a humorous send-up of 1950s B-movie sci-fi and family-oriented tv sitcoms. It is Summer 1958 in the San Fernando Valley, where everything is simple and sweet until aliens from another planet, led by a giant brain creature, land in order to turn humans into unfeeling zombie slaves. What will become of suburbia?
Bruce Kimmel wrote the book (with David Wechter), music, and lyrics, and took on the directing duties for this production. The overall sensibility of this show is campy fun. This peppy spirit combined with the ample skills on stage keep the audience bouncing all the way to the final curtain, in spite of some shortcomings in the script.
The cast is funny, appealing, talented, and delightful. Rob Evan's former-football-player physique and incredible voice are put to good use as suburban dad Fred Bunson. Amy Bodnar shows that she can adeptly shift gears from minion mom to space zombie huntress to liberated woman. Their duets together are quite charming. If one could earn military promotion through laughs then Richard Pruitt deserves twelve stars as General Mills. His attack is equal to the forces of George C. Scott and Will Ferrell combined. I wish he was given his own number so he could let loose with both guns. Barry Pearl's Borscht-Belt delivery as The Brain elicits an equal amount of groans and guffaws with "Look Ma, no hands" skill. Literally.
The supporting players and ensemble are wonderful. Benjamin Clark is hilarious as Professor Leder but deserves extra recognition for giving his Narrator a full character and conjuring the right atmosphere for the evening's events. I cackled several times at his opening shtick and wanted him to return more frequently during some of the transitions. Naomi Kakuk practically gives a seminar on how to make the most of every entrance. Anyone who has ever thought of going to a chorus call should watch this woman work. I was glad to see everyone get to blow it all out during the big dance filibuster in Act Two. Adam Cates's deft choreography gives the equivalent of a Buddy Rich drum solo there.
Jessa-Raye Court's costume design brings this intersection of Americana, military, and aliens to life in vivid colors. There are many good references to characters from '50s TV and film. My favorite was seeing Paul Downs Colaizzo's Rod recalling Maynard G. Krebs. Heather Wolensky's cleverly minimal sets speak volumes. Larry Moore's orchestrations combined with Lawrence Goldberg's music direction and a kick-ass (onstage) pit make the most out of every tune, riff, interstitial, and woo-hoooo-wooo warble.
If one were to play Monday-afternoon dramaturg, one might say The Brain from Planet X is a little long for camp. The first half of Act One comes on strong but the latter half loses steam. That's where a couple songs could be cut or moved. In Act Two, the play finds its distinct voice separate from the sources it references. That is also when Alet Taylor as Yoni and Cason Murphy as Zubrick get released from imitating characters from Ed Wood movies and tear the roof off the joint. Most of the dramatic action happens in the final ten minutes (the characters finally stop talking about what is happening and really do something). As is, the overly simple wrap-up practically renders the evening useless. One is left with the sense that the dramatic action was a much lesser concern to the writers than the jokes in this piece. This spoof is smarter than that. If these plot problems get addressed, this show could blast off to a nice off-Broadway run.
Should Michael Cassara Casting do as good a job casting the other ten NYMF shows it worked on this year, this will be a showcase festival par excellence. If you want to see uptown talent doing a downtown musical, check out The Brain from Planet X.