Pest Control The Musical may well be the most visually and technically spectacular musical ever staged in a 99-seat L.A. area theater. Its cast is a mix of stars with major Broadway credits and some of our finest local talents. Director- choreographer James J. Mellon and his Open At The Top Productions have mounted a sensational world premiere musical where only the number of seats is small.
OATT Productions, for the uninitiated, is the L.A. company which has dared to mount original Broadway-scale musicals on a yearly basis since its inception. Beginning with the still fondly remembered Dorian, Artistic Director Mellon and Producing Director Kevin Bailey, have gone on to stage the marvelous The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, the highly original Lizard, and the sure to be Christmas perennial Yo Ho Ho! A Pirate’s Christmas.
Besides the proven talent behind Pest Control The Musical, the show happens to benefit from something few 99-seat theaters can ever boast of … money. Muchos muchos dolares, thanks to media conglomerate Canum Enterprises, which has not only given the NoHo Arts Center newly upgraded state of the art lighting and sound equipment but attracted the kind of talent that would normally appear only on our large theater stages, thanks to offering its actors a Hollywood Area Theater Equity contract. Believe me, the bucks show. This production is a dazzler!
Pest Control The Musical tells the fanciful tale of Bob Dillon (not a typo), a lowly exterminator, who ends up being confused with a different type of exterminator (i.e. hit man) and assigned the task of assassinating a South American dictator.
Bob (Broadway star Darren Ritchie, a younger Norbert Leo Butz) is asleep in front of his floor model console TV (it is 1979, you see) when out of it unfolds (literally) a glamorous TV anchorwoman reporting the latest news, and all of a sudden before our eyes the stage is overrun with human sized bugs, the most visually dazzling display of dancing/flying animals since the monkeys of Wicked overtook the Pantages.
Cut to Marcella Dupree (Broadway’s Joanna Glushak, who could be the lovechild of Chita Rivera and Joanna Gleason in both looks and talent). Marcella heads Till Death Do Us Part, the world’s preeminent assassination firm, and is clearly a woman in control. “I am Marcella Dupree and who are you!” she snaps. Her brother Klaus (Jay Willick) is retiring after a stellar career (“He was Green Beret, he was CIA”) and a replacement must be found.
Back to Bob, who along with co-exterminators Jon (Alex Robert Holmes) and Jean (Karesa McElheny), performs “The Bugman Says” to Mellon’s MTV ready choreography, the three of them carrying huge exterminator guns and looking like something out of Pestbusters. The trio then head over to the night club where sultry French chanteuse Chantelle (Dana Meller) has just performed a song dedicated (thick French accent here) “to my late ‘usband Steve!”
At the club, it’s love at first smell for Bob and CIA undercover agent Parker (Broadway/L.A. favorite Beth Malone) in “It Must Be A Pheromone Thing.” “I never dreamed that love could come by sense of smell,” they sing to each other, all the while sniffing away. (Neither is the other’s type, you see, so this olfactory attraction takes them both by surprise.)
To Marcella’s office comes Mrs. Roach (Janet Fontaine), whose husband is cheating on her with her twin sister. Mrs. R. is in need of a little “Pest Control” and Till Death Do Us Part is just the organization to undertake this task.
Meanwhile, back at the club, Bob happens to remark, “Did you know we were all in the extermination business?” and is overheard by Klaus, who is pleased to report that he has found his replacement, the “bug guy,” aka our hero. Marcella is doubtful. How do they know he’s not an average everyday exterminator? Easy, replies Klaus. “If bugs die, I’m wrong. If your client dies, you’ve got yourself a new man.”
A deal is made with Bob for “200.” (He thinks he’s getting $200, not bad for a bug job, and has no idea that he’s actually negotiated a $200,000 contract.)
Parker can’t believe that mild mannered Bob is actually a world class hit man, but her boss Wolfe (Broadway legend Cleavant Derricks) reassures her that “killing bugs” is just “double speak” for assassin
Next to arrive on scene is Renaldo (Actors Co-op favorite John Allsopp), sporting circa-The Main Event Barbra Streisand curls and a hilariously over-the-top accent. Renaldo is second in command to Latin American strongman Vega and wants, with the help of the CIA, to take over his country, with a plan to revamp the economy with a chain of coffee shops. As this is a pre-Starbucks world, Wolfe is skeptical, but Renaldo persists. “All I need is a name,” he reassures the CIA, since he already has a logo which looks remarkably like the one that’s probably on a corner near your house.
When Roach ends up dead, Marcella is convinced that Bob is indeed a hit man extraordinaire, so extraordinaire that he must be “The Vanished Killer.”
Will Bob go through with the assassination of Generalissimo Vega? Will he and Parker have the proverbial happy ending? Will Renaldo come up with a name for his coffee shop chain? These and other questions are answered in Pest Control The Musical’s second act, which takes off right where Act 1 ended (prompting a very funny self-aware line of dialog).
Vladimir Shainskiy’s music and Scott DeTurk’s lyrics are just what a rock musical like Pest Control needs, and John Jay Moores, Jr.’s book, though it could stand a little tweaking to clarify certain plot points, is funny and clever indeed. Shanskiy’s music (unlike Scott A. Lane’s sensational polyester 70s costumes, a vision in color and bad taste), makes no attempt to bring back the era of disco, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Pest Control has a contemporary hard rock sound, with hip hop and power ballads added to the mix and Mellon’s choreography suits each musical genre to a T.
Of course, none of this would be possible without a Broadway-class musical director and David Manning more than amply fills the bill, with a rock concert ready sound, performed by Manning on keyboards, Kevin Tiernan and Ivor Francis on guitars, Marty Buttwinick on bass, and Ray Frisby on drums.
Eugene Caine-Epstein’s scenic design and Luke Moyer’s lighting are in a class by themselves. Caine-Epstein’s industrial-look set has taken advantage of the NoHo Arts Center’s double-decker stage, with plenty of ladders and netting which Pest Control’s cast climb, sing, and swing from with the greatest of ease. Moyer has made great use of the theater’s ultra state of the art lighting, illuminating the stage with neon colors and animated projections which turn nearly every production number (of which there are many) into anime-like spectacle.
Ritchie’s performance as Bob leaves no doubt as to why this young quadruple- threat has gotten himself cast in show after Broadway show. Besides his sexy boy- next-door good looks, which make him the perfect choice for Bob, Ritchie is a terrific actor, singer, dancer, and guitarist. His solo “Worse Than Dyin’” begins with Ritchie accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, then segues into hip-hop with Ritchie giving Eminem a run for his money.
Malone has shone multiple times in L.A. musicals, most recently in On Your Toes and Sister Act, and has a lead in Broadway’s Ring Of Fire among her credits. No wonder. This slip of a lass has more voice per ounce than anyone else in the biz, witness her power ballad “I Would Kill For You,” with Malone’s enormous voice reaching the rafters and beyond. She’s also a charming, likeable leading lady to boot, and she and Ritchie have great onstage chemistry.
Derricks (the Tony-winning original James Thunder Early in Broadway’s Dreamgirls) is an imposing presence as Wolfe, his performance highlighted by a show-stopping rendition of “Back Then.”
Glushak is a whirlwind of talent and sizzle as Marcella and (in an Act 2 switch) as a Fidel Castro-like Vega. Allsopp is an absolute riot as Renaldo and an imposing 6 foot tall Bug (that’s his insect character’s name). Meller can compete with the best France has to offer as la belle et sexy Chantelle and Willick is a slickly villainous Klaus.
Part of the fun for OATT subscribers and regulars will be to see company members in their Broadway star mode. Paul Denniston, Fontaine, McElheny, and Jonathan Zenz have proven their dramatic talents in numerous OATT productions. Here they are standouts in singing-dancing roles, as are Holmes and Sabrina Miller. Megan S. Densmore, J.R.Mangels, and Billie Puyear round out the stellar ensemble.
Completing the shows dream team are sound designer Jonathan Burke, hair and wig designer Diane Martinous, and assistant scenic designer Dana Moran Williams. DeTurk and Jeff Pekarek’s orchestrations and DeTurk’s arrangements couldn’t be better. Christopher Brown (assistant director/production stage manager) and Joseph Church and tea & tonic (additional music) also deserve kudos.
The highest praise I can give Pest Control The Musical is this. I’m electing to forgo a pair of comps to review something new later this month and have already purchased a ticket to see Pest Control again. This show more than merits a second look!
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
May 3, 2008