Some snappy SNL-style writing and a cast of sixteen’s often sharp comedic chops could well make Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back a cult hit despite a currently way-overlong three-hour running time and quite a few not-ready-for-musical-theater voices.
You’d have to have been hiding under a rock over the past ten years not to have at least heard of ABC’s 2004-2010 supernatural sci-fi smash, or of its premise. (Plane crash survivors find themselves stranded on a mysterious tropical South Pacific island filled with mysterious creatures including polar bears and invisible monsters.)
As for its May 23, 2010 series finale, anyone on social media that evening could hardly have missed the outrage “The End” provoked in fans who felt they’d been cheated, robbed, and otherwise jerked around.
My own exposure to Lost began only the night before Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back’s Gala Opening Night (marking the tenth anniversary of the show’s September 22, 2004 premiere), a mini-binge viewing of the two-part Series Pilot followed by Episode Three prepping me for the first quarter-hour or so of director-writer Steven Brandon and writer Steven Christopher Parker’s musical spoof.
There’s hunk hero Jack’s awakening to the “lick, lick, wake up” tongue of a crash-surviving pooch (played here by a human actor in dog suit), Oceanic Flight 815’s dazed-and-delirious-but-still-alive crash victims in full chaos mode, and the survivors’ discovery that they are not the first to find themselves stranded à la Swiss Family Robinson. (The 16-year-old French-language SOS-on-loop now asks whoever might be listening, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”)
Lost fans will revel in the running gags the co-creators have come up with. There are Jack’s repeated reassurances that “I’m a fucking doctor!”, Michael’s agonized (and agonizing) moans of “Walt! Walt!” as he searches for his 10-year-old son, and most amusingly, Asian couple Jin and Sun’s inability to make themselves understood by even one English-speaking survivor. (On the TV series, Jin and Sun converse in subtitled Korean. Here the couple speak fluent American English but still no one can understand a word they’re saying, a crying shame since Jin gives the best advice of them all.)
Having only seen the first 3 of Lost’s 121 episodes, I must admit to having gotten a lot less of Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back’s remaining two-and-three-quarter hours than its first fifteen minutes, though I did gather that a character named Ethan (here given the last name Notonplane) suddenly appeared in the survivors’ midst after having indeed been not on plane, that at some point or other the Original Lost Ones discovered somebody’s underground lair, that a trio of newbies named Libby, Mr. Eko, and Ana Lucia suddenly showed up (though presumably not as guests of a Drew Carey-hosted game show), and that a bunch of additional new arrivals aka “The Others” ended up as series regulars sometime during Lost’s six-season run.
(Though watching Episodes 1-3 already had me contemplating seeing all 121, I must admit that the absurdity revealed in Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back—time-travel to the 1970s, moving the island from here to somewhere over there, the arrival of “The Freighters”—has me reconsidering the investment of 85 or so hours of my time, not counting Hulu Plus commercials.)
Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back is at its cleverest when at its most meta.
A bit of incestuous making out prompts one character to remark, “That’s probably why you get killed off.” When the French speaker who got lost 16 years earlier wonders whether Ross and Rachel ever got together, someone quips, “I hate when good shows have bad endings.” A fight between man and polar bear provokes an, “At least polar bears actually exist. We can actually justify its being here.”
A recurring character’s insufficient “screen time” gets poked at too as does the expendability of those frequently bumped-off guest stars. One apparently disposable character gripes “I should have gotten a better death scene” while another takes a “Whatever” attitude by remarking “It never really made any sense and it doesn’t pay off in the end.”
As for Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams, “Big J” is transformed into one of Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back’s dramatis personae, taking the place of Lost: The Series’ “Jacob The Protector,” with references to previous Abrams TV hits Felicity and Alias provoking elbow-pokes and chuckles.
Last but definitely not least, Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back allows the audience to vote at intermission on one of three alternate endings, each one in a particular TV genre. (This reviewer voted for ‘70s sitcom though the Opening Night crowd ended up picking ‘80s sci fi.)
Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back’s shoestring budget (evidenced in Tom Phillips’ flimsy Fringe-like scenic design) is aided considerably by “fair use” laws exempting parodists from having to pay for copyrighted material.
The same holds true for its dozen or so songs, each of them a Weird Al Yankovich-style parody of a well-known hit, lyricists Parker and Brandon deserving high marks for coming up with as eclectic a list of songs as one could possibly imagine, everything from Don Maclean to Michael Jackson to Kander & Ebb to Journey to Gilbert & Sullivan to Billy Joel to Stephen Schwartz to The Flintstones.
Clever indeed are the ways songs like “American Pie” (“Bye, bye, Oceanic 815”), The Little Mermaid’s “Part Of Your World” (“What the hell? What the fuck? Where are we?”), and “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (“We Didn’t Have A Plotline”) are integrated into Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back’s admittedly convoluted and confounding plotline.
More problematic is the fact that the cast’s unmiked voices (and a near lack of Broadway—or Broadway-adjacent—vocal chops) prevent many of Parker and Brandon’s lyrics from being heard over too-amplified instrumental tracks, and at three hours in length, I can’t help wondering if a song-free 90-minute Lost: The Parody might have been the better way to go. (The show as is goes on and on and on, with more scenes—and time-consuming scene changes—than I could possibly have counted.)
Cast members Ben Burch, Will Choi, Frank Crim, Tyler Courtad, Sarah Jayne Daquioag, Eric Fagundes, Ryan Grassmeyer, Josh Hillinger, Katie Hotchkiss, Randy Wade Kelley, Cat Lacohie, Alex Lewis, Kahlie Metz, Ken Maurice Purnell, Kacey Spivey, and Rajan Velu (alternating with Bruno Xavier) are clearly having the time of their lives spoofing their favorite TV series, and their enthusiasm is infectious. (Burch’s eyelash-batting Richard, Choi’s dryly deadpan Jin, Grassmeyer’s good-humored Hurley, Kelley’s sinister Ben Linus plus adorable canine critter, and Hillinger’s and Lewis’s bevy of colorful characters end up best of the bunch.)
Choreographer Heather Ashleigh Rivers adapts the now iconic video moves of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as “Monster” (in honor of Lost’s ubiquitous Snow Monster) and turns “Hooray For Hollywood” (retitled “Hooray For Candidates”) into a lively tap number. Musical director Dereau K. Farrar is at his best in numbers that have the entire cast joined in song, but gets stymied by soloists either not on the beat or not hitting the right note or both. (In the cast’s defense, asking any but the most gifted singers to attempt Chicago The Musical’s “We Both Reached for the Gun” or The Pirates Of Penzance’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” or heaven forbid, the sky-high notes of Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” is asking for the miraculous.)
Christina Robinson has contributed an okay lighting design. Uncredited costumes have the look of the TV originals, and multiple, often amusing wigs help distinguish between characters.
Kat Jiang is stage manager and Alex M. Lu is assistant stage manager. Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back is produced by Parker and Brandon.
Though far from L.A. musical theater at its professional best, at a mere twenty bucks a ticket and with fewer than 2000 of Lost Season One’s 15,690,00 weekly viewers needed to fill every single seat during its scheduled five-week run, Lost: The Musical – We Have To Go Back could end up SRO from now till closing night.
Lostaways (or Losties if you prefer), this one is for you.
Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
September 22, 2014