If you’ve ever groaned through a 1950s Grade Z Hollywood sci fi flick, you are sure to enjoy Bruce Kimmel’s musical comedy spoof The Brain From Planet X.  

Brain’s world premiere was a week-long production in December 2006 at Kimmel’s alma mater, the LACC Theatre Academy, in a pro/am staging which featured four Equity guest artists leading an otherwise student cast.  Having thoroughly enjoyed that production (including being featured as the audience participation “guest star” in the Brain Tap number), I’ve been eagerly awaiting its first long run, the Orange County premiere at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.

The show is as fresh and funny and tuneful as ever.  It’s also more than a bit racy and irreverent, which may shock more conservative OC residents.

Kimmel has cast many of my favorite Chance Theater Resident Company Members in lead roles, beginning with the stupendous Michael Irish as the Narrator, who cautions the audience that what they are about to see is absolutely true and based on sworn testimony!  Irish chews the scenery as if he were a member of Ed Wood’s stable of stars (remember Plan 9 From Outer Space?) with appropriately over the top gestures and an eyebrow which seems to rise at least an inch above the others.

We are soon introduced to Joyce and Fred (Allison Appleby and award-winning Bob Simpson*, reunited after the recent and much raved about Assassins). In “Here On Earth,” the quintessential 1950s suburban couple sing of their perfect life “except for the communists and the threat of nuclear annihilation.”  Teenage daughter Donna (Shannon Cudd) is off to the library to do research on her paper on bomb shelter decorating ideas. Fred thinks that 7:30 is a bit too late for a good girl to go out, until Donna points out that tomorrow IS the weekend.

Suddenly, there is an explosion of sound and bright red light! “It was horrible,” cries Donna. “It sounded like vomiting. Like the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir vomiting at the same time!”

Life goes on, despite alien invasion, and Donna heads off for her date with beatnik boyfriend Rod (Dimas Diaz*). Rod has turned from juvenile delinquency to Allen Ginsberg, but Donna loves him because he’s “bad, bad, bad” and he loves her because she’s “like a cat on a hot tin roof.”  Song cue: “Good Girl/Bad Girl.”

Meanwhile, General Mills (America’s only living 1-Star General) is meeting with the chiefs of staff, Colonel Sanders, Marshall Fields, and Major Surgery, accompanied by his assistant Private Partz.  (Yes, it’s corny, but don’t you love it?) The General is concerned with strange occurrences in the San Fernando Valley, which happens to be exactly where Joyce and Fred make their happy home.

The strange occurrence is the arrival of outer space aliens Zubrick and Yoni (Daniel Berlin and Emily Clark*, John Hinckley and Squeaky Fromme of Assassins, together again and this time out not to assassinate but to mind-control ALL Americans). Berlin’s Zubrick is a young John Candy in bright blue spandex with a helium voice and Clark’s Yoni a shapely vixen with a foot-high blue beehive she surely copied from Marge Simpson.  The two are subjects of the most fearsome outer space leader of all, The Brain From Planet X, who looks and sounds like a Catskill comic a la Milton Berle, Myron Cohen, or Shecky Greene. The Brain announces that they will be following not Plan 9 (“that’s been done before”) but an even more dastardly one, PLAN 10! (from outer space of course).  Song cue: “The Plan.”

Fred is an amateur inventor (One of his latest inventions prepares teenagers’ lungs for “adult smoking”) and he sings about “The World Of Tomorrow” where “streets are clean and gas is free.”  (That lyric gets a big laugh.)  General Mills arrives and asks Fred to organize a search party to hunt out the aliens who’ve attacked Earth. Meanwhile, Zubrick keeps getting lost himself, prompting Yoni to complain, “You wouldn’t know the Earth from Uranus!”

Things start getting serious when our alien invaders zap Joyce with their “mind bender” gun, causing her eyes to stare blankly ahead and robbing her of any romantic urges.  Refusing Fred even a hello kiss, she informs him “I’m afraid you have to get used to the new me because she’s not going away any time soon,” and if that weren’t enough, tells him this again in song (“Things Are Going To Be Changing Around Here”).

“There Are Saucers In The Sky” sings the ensemble as one by one, the Earthlings’ wills are bent and the audience is sent out to intermission.

Act 2 features the tap dancing (and brain tapping) “Brain Tap,” a newly sexified Yoni’s “I Need An Earthling,” the Brain’s very own “The Brain Song,” Joyce’s declaration of “Independence Day,” and Zubrick’s “All About Men,” the gayest song since Mel Brooks wrote the “throw out your hands,
stick out your tush” number for Blazing Saddles, and featuring an enormous beach ball and two shirtless hunks in gold lamé swim trunks.

After all this, you may wonder, in the words of the narrator, if you dare be an eyewitness to such unspeakable TERROR!

The answer is “Of course!” It’s musical theater!

Bruce Kimmel not wrote music and lyrics, he co-wrote the book (with David Wechter) and directed both the LACC original and the Chance’s OC premiere. Though the Equity leads in the original were vocally stronger than their Chance counterparts, that is a minor quibble in an all around fantastic cast. Appleby and Simpson are a delight as Brain’s answer to Ward and June Cleaver (or Ozzie and Harriet), and bubbly Cudd and too-cool Diaz get an A+ on their high school make- out exam.  Mark Rothman moves from a successful writing career, which includes numerous episodes of The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, to become a very funny Borscht Belt Brain.  Best and funniest of all are Berlin and Clark as our alien invaders. Who would have thought those two Assassins could be such outrageous visitors from another planet? The talented cast is completed by Warren Draper* (a gravely voiced General Mills), Dan Flapper (Private Partz), Cody Andersen, Jamie Lee Baker, Marlana Filannino, Patrick Robert Kelly, and Jenna Romano.

Musical director Bill Strongin leads a spirited 3 piece band: Strongin on piano, Lonn Hayes on percussion, and Ross Craton on reed.  Adam Cates’ inventive choreography uses 1950s sci-fi flicks as its inspiration.  Masako Tobaru’s set design is simple in the extreme, but it does use some very funny Fisher-Price toys as scientific instruments, and there are a number of clever sliding-door gags. Tobaru’s projections change the set from a suburban home to a space ship to other assorted locations; if only they didn’t mostly disappear when the lights go up.  Lighting is by KC Wilkerson and sound design by Dave Mickey and Mitchell Kohen.  deb (not a typo) Millison’s costumes range from 1950s casual to outer space outrageous.

Though not at the spoof level of say, Mel Brooks’ The Producers, The Brain From Planet X remains a thoroughly entertaining two and a quarter of fun and music. Audience members with some experience seeing the schlock movies it’s inspired by will have their enjoyment enhanced, but even those who pop in unprepared are likely to have a grand old sci-fi time! 

*Chance Resident Company Member

Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave. Anaheim Hills.

–Steven Stanley
May 18, 2008
Photos: Doug Catiller

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