Stellar performances and a laugh-packed book are the best reasons to catch Richard Hochberg and Michael Paternosto’s SCARY MUSICAL The Musical. What’s still missing are the kind of catchy, hummable tunes that would take the creative duo’s deliciously campy send-up of Psycho, Carrie, Halloween, and other assorted scream-fests beyond its current NoHo Arts Center World Premiere run.
As its title suggests, SCARY MUSICAL The Musical takes as inspiration two of the most popular movie franchises of the past fifteen years (that would be Scary Movies 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and High School Musicals 1, 2, and 3), minus the R-rated raunch of Franchise One but with considerably more sexual innuendo than Franchise Two.
Not surprisingly, SCARY MUSICAL The Musical starts off with (cue drum roll, or should that be scream effect?) … a murder. A double murder, in fact, since not only does Drew Campbell (Laurel Carlson)—about to play the lead in the Vera Miles High School high school musical—get offed (once she’s belted out the final notes of “Killer In The House”) but her understudy Eve (one of SCARY MUSICAL The Musical’s assorted winks to Turner Classic Movies) is made to meet her maker as well.
Before long, Horrible News reporter Leeza Courtney Fox (Candi Milo) and her schlumpy, beleaguered camera gal Teena Louise (Jennifer Bennett) have shown up in Hidden Secrets, U.S.A., where they find flamboyant drama teacher/wrestling coach Mr. MacGuffin (Matthew Tyler) auditioning Drew’s replacement from possible suspects.
These include Jason Cravin (Keir Kirkegaard), the school’s sexiest jock, whose penchant for doffing anything above the belt keeps his Men’s Fitness-ready biceps, pecs and abs abundantly on display; school weirdo Carrie Beige (Leigh Golden), Bible ever in her grasp, that is when her hands aren’t wrapped around whoever’s breasts just happen to be nearby; mother-loving gay goth Norman Hates (August Emerson), who would do anything to take over Drew’s role including cross-dressing (and possibly murder); and peppy, perky Freddy Loussier (Frank Authello Andrus, Jr.), whose back story I didn’t get.
The arrival of nubile blonde transfer student Jamie Lee Leigh (Jane Papageorge), who just happens to be a dead (sorry, make that still alive-and-belting) ringer for Drew, adds one more possible “person of interest” to the list of suspects and could also provide Mr. MacGuffin with the leading lady he’s been looking for, that is if he doesn’t decide to go after the role himself.
The laughs come fast and furious in Hochberg’s clever, campy book. Reporter Leeza makes it repeatedly her business to remind Horrible News viewers that Drew and Eve have not just been murdered, they’ve been murdered … DEAD!—and is equally horrified when her zaftig sidekick shows up in figure-unflattering HORIZONTAL stripes! Flaming drama teacher MacGuffin comes up with pretext after pretext to spend one-on-one time with shirtless hunk Jason. (After all, who wouldn’t want to measure Jason’s … inseam?) And much is made of the psychiatric institutionalization that has only just sent Jamie Lee “Out Of Africa” to Vera Miles High, where she soon discovers that “High School Can Be Murder.”
Speaking of murder, SCARY MUSICAL The Musical takes its cue from The Mystery Of Edwin Drood by inviting the audience to pick the killer, though instead of by show of hands, this time round it’s tweets that get counted, audience members having been forewarned to keep their smart phones on standby.
Cast members combine comedic chops and powerhouse vocals in equal measure, not only adding to the fun but making the most of SCARY MUSICAL The Musical’s not-so-catchy tunes.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a finer cast than the one assembled on the NoHo Arts stage, director James J. Mellon pitching in terrifically to help shape their performances (with whiz musical director Brent Crayon in charge of vocals) while serving up some lively production numbers as choreographer.
Recent UCLA grad Papageorge combines blonde girl-next-door charm, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue curves, rafters-reaching vocals, and ample comedic gifts to make for a pair of stunning performances, (I’ll leave it to you to figure out why “Laurel Carlson” does not appear onstage alongside Papageorge at curtain calls).
Those with a penchant for the male physique will find Papageorge’s match—talentwise as well—in the supremely sculpted and vocally gifted Kirkegaard. StageSceneLA favorites Golden and Andrus once again prove themselves multi-talented scene-stealers, Emerson couldn’t make for a more wonderfully weird Norman, Tyler sets the stage aflame as leggy Mr. MacGuffin, and gal duo Milo and Bennett more than give Lucy and Ethel and LaVerne and Shirley a run for their money.
If SCARY MUSICAL The Musical’s songs sound as good as they do, it’s thanks not only to cast vocals but to Crayon and the Scary Musical Band: Crayon on keyboard, Brian Boyce on drums, Jen Trani on guitar, and Jeff Nocack on bass, and to orchestrator Kenny Seymour as well.
There can be no quibbling about scenic designer Desma Murphy’s deliciously grungy set, one that takes us deep into the catacombs of Vera Miles High, lit to horror movie perfection by Luke Moyer and featuring one scream-inspiring effect after another by Sound Designer Extraordinaire Cricket S. Myers. Shon LeBlanc’s spiffy costumes not only give each character his or her iconic Scary Movie look but (in the case of the often underclothed Jason and Jamie Lee) know when less is more. Additional design kudos go to Paula Catania’s projection design and Joel Ward’s illusions/magic.
Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Lora K. Powell is production stage manager, Alexis Julianna Resnick is stage manager and Matthew Noah isassistant stage manager. Kevin Bailey is executive producer and Daniel Solis as associate producer. Jay Willick is NoHo Arts Center producer.
Perhaps the highest praise I can offer a World Premiere musical is to bemoan the fact that a cast recording is not already available for purchase and listening to on the ride home. That I don’t have that CD on my wish list as things stand means that, for this reviewer at least, SCARY MUSICAL The Musical still needs work. Nevertheless, I must admit to having had a murderously good time, and if you share my love for camp, my guess is that you will too.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
October 2, 2014
Photos: Michael Lamont