Sally Spectre, the heroine of David P. Johnson’s charming if wispy chamber musical of the same name, has lived her life (sorry, make that her death) with a hatchet in her head for the past fifty years, trapped inside the bedroom that was hers during her short time on earth. Though Johnson’s book is vague on just why she’s unable to flee from her room or what exactly will happen if and when she does make her escape, a bunch of terrific performances and some clever, tuneful songs make Sally Spectre The Musical an entertaining hour and fifteen minutes of gothic froth.

It helps considerably that Sally is brought to life by the waiflike Justine Huxley, who stares out at the world though big, haunted eyes and sings of her hopes and fears (“I’ve got dreams I could share with my friends if I only knew how to get through that door”) in a pure, crystalline soprano.

Sally is joined on her journey by the toys she knew during her brief life on earth, or rather by her memory of those toys—a soldier named Bartholomew (Matthew Hoffman) and a quartet of others, who have apparently melded in her memory into one toy divided into four quarters—Nero, Winky, Monaco, and Morris, played by Hudsen Cy Schuchart in a costume literally divided into fours.

In “Reason To Worry,” Bartholomew reassures Sally that he is there to keep her safe, all the while asserting that they do indeed have reason to worry. “Quarters” reflects Nero’s concern that “I just can’t recall what it was that I sought” and his fear that he will “sink like a stone in a cascade of bloody gorey.”

If the meaning of these songs remains more than a tad obscure, Hoffmann and Schuchart’s performances are so utterly winning that it matters not all that much not knowing exactly what they’re getting at.

Sally’s life (oops, I mean death) gets even more puzzling with the arrival of a tall, dark, menacing phantom called Wraith (Paul Walling), hardly someone a little girl would want hanging around her bedroom. Wraith is joined by a pair of apprentices, an old man named Gustave (Robert W. Laur) and a pretty blonde named Mabel (Sarah Schulte), the trio proclaiming in song that “Nobody’s Brilliant In A Room Full Of Genius” because “all you do is flatten out the curve.”

Winky, another of the quartered toys, sings the sweet and plaintive “On The Moon,” backed by Gustave, Mabel, and Sally. Bartholomew, Gustave, and the rest complain to Wraith that “everything you’re telling us and everything you’re selling us and everything you’re shelling us is your side. Manipulating, calculating, oratating, vacillating everything and anything to your side,” one of Johnson’s cleverest lyrics. In “Twilight Blue,” Wraith sings of what awaits Sally should she leave her room: “Twilight blue on the bayou, clouds surround you like a cage, a warm wind winds through the gentle cypress trees, calming Mother Nature’s rage.”

As the above lyrics and synopsis suggest, not all that much happens during our eighty-five minutes with Sally and friends, leading this reviewer to wonder whether a stronger storyline might be advisable.  As for whether Sally finds a way to escape from her room, and if so, what awaits her outside and what it all means, my lips are sealed, though truth be told, that last question still remains somewhat of a mystery to me.

Nonetheless, even without a straightforward, linear plot, Sally Spectre The Musical kept me mostly charmed and entertained, thanks in great part to Janet Miller’s assured direction and delightful choreography, Johnson’s melodic, clever songs, and some all-around fine performances.


Besides Huxley, who simply could not be better as Sally, a pair of performers steal the show each and every time they take center stage. Hoffmann is a wonder as Bartholomew, radiating warmth all the while trapped in a body without elbow and knee joins, leaving him incapable of ever giving Sally the bear hug she so clearly needs. L.A. newcomer Schuchart is an absolute charmer, whether in jester, or feline, or kingly mode, a bunch of huggable toys in one. Add to this trio the very fine threesome of Walling, Laur, and Schulte, and a spider named Calipso playing itself, and you have a particularly able cast bringing Johnson’s tale to life (or to death).

In addition to wearing book, music, and lyric-writer hats, Johnson provides impeccable live side-stage keyboard accompaniment as Archimedes Keys. Sally’s simple but effective bedroom set is designed and constructed by Dan Keough, Kathy Schoeppner, and Johnson, and stylishly lit by lighting designer Yancey Dunham. Barbara Weisel, Gillian and Rebecca Lane, and Schoeppner have designed the cast’s highly imaginative costumes. There’s a first rate sound design by Ellen Juhlin and Johnson, marred only by the paper-thin walls of the NoHo Stages. (At the performance reviewed, what sounded like a TV next door could be heard throughout the end of the show.) Kate Barrett is stage manager.

Not too scary (except for the tiniest tots) and sophisticated enough for their elders, Sally Spectre The Musical might well become a Halloween favorite, particularly if Johnson can come up with a clearer, more straightforward book on which to hang his ingenious songs.

NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
November 7, 2011

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