The season’s brightest, bounciest, and most crowd-pleasing musical surprise turns out to be Colette Freedman and Nickella Moschetti’s Serial Killer Barbie, hardly the splatter fest its catchy albeit misleading title might suggest, but a show that anyone who’s gone through the 12 rounds that are Elementary, Middle, and High School can identify with and cheer.
The musical merriment—and occasional murderous mayhem—starts off on the eve of six-year-old Parker’s impending first day in First Grade, an event that sends mom Barbie (Kelley Dorney) on a bedtime-story trip down memory lane, a twelve-year journey on which our heroine (christened Barbara Laura after the First Ladies Bush) discovers from day one that school—like mean girls Debbie (Marti Maley), Debby (Kacey Coppola), and Debbi (Katy Jacoby)—can be a bitch, particularly with Queen Bs like these three around to torment a brainy but popularity-challenged first-grader.
Yes, Barbie does quickly find a best friend in Bruce (Alex Robert Holmes), who even at age six sends his new bestie’s gaydar into high alert, but accessorizing one’s life with a GBF is hardly likely to score a girl popularity points, or earn her a boyfriend as hunky as muscle-stud-in-training Sebastian (Cy Creamer), or even win over friends as dorky as Beatrice (Nicole Fabbri) or as perpetually pissed as Sharon (Jillian Fonacier) or as square as Ronald (Bradley Estrin) or as invisible as the redhead (Christopher Kelly) whose name no one seems to know.
Fortunately, since every Girl Group must acquire an acolyte, Barbie eventually finds herself “adopted” by Debbie-Debby-Debbi, best-friendship to Bruce be damned, or at least until the newly cool Barbie realizes she has made a deal with the she-devils and hatches a plot to off them all.
While not every musical theatergoer has lived in pre-statehood Oklahoma, or been a gang member on New York’s lower West Side, or been jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, or been born Elphaba green or Tracy Turnblad plump, each and every one of us (dropouts excepted) has gone through twelve years of compulsory education, a fact which gives Serial Killer Barbie as wide a demographic as any new musical could hope for. In other words, there’s not an audience member who won’t recognize him or herself—or friends and enemies of school years past—in Barbie and her classmates.
Having begun their lives a decade ago at the Odyssey Theatre in the opening act of Freedman’s Deconstructing The Torah, it’s perhaps no wonder that Serial Killer Barbie’s four lead characters have a three-dimensional richness you’d expect from a musical with straight-play roots, and though Bruce and supporting classmates are new to the musical mix, they are equally multifaceted. (Did I mention that Freedman’s book is laugh-out-loud funny to boot?)
As for Serial Killer Barbie’s dozen or so songs (whose titles and performers are grievously omitted from the show’s program), I’m delighted to report that after a couple of other recent World Premiere musicals with instantly forgettable tunes, Moschetti’s melodies are as catchy as can be, with mostly deft lyrics supplied by Freedman (with additional lyrics by the composer).
68 Cent Crew Theatre Company head honcho Ronnie Marmo’s extensive experience directing plays without music serves him well in his musical theater directorial debut, insuring one memorably multi-layered performance after another, with choreographer Anne-Marie Osgood’s musical staging spicing things up throughout.
Leading lady (and recent NYC-to-LA transplant) Dorney winningly anchors all twelve rounds, keeping us on Barbie’s side even at her most confused, and belting even the highest notes with Broadway-caliber power pipes.
As for over-achiever Debbie, dumb-blonde Debby, and air-quotes-misusing Debbi, it’s hard to imagine any threesome topping Maley, Coppola, and Jacoby, who turn the 3Ds into a trio of “benevolent bully bitches” you absolutely love to hate, and can’t get enough of.
As Bruce, NoHo Arts Center staple Holmes gives his finest and most touching performance to date. Sensational triple-threat support is provided by Creamer, Fabbri, Estrin, Fonacier, and Kelly, the latter scoring bonus points for the most hilarious mime sequence I can ever recall seeing. Understudy Audrey Bluestone combines spunk and charm in her first time out as Parker. Scenie winner Devon Hadsell is female swing and Estrin doubles as male swing.
Musical director Moschetti plays keyboards in Serial Killer Barbie’s terrific three-piece orchestra, Ed Cosico’s guitar and Hilletje Bashew’s violin adding a extra richness to Moschetti’s melodies. (Cosico provides percussion on the cajón as well.)
Adam Gascoine’s tiptop scenic design transforms the NoHo Arts Center’s smaller blackbox space into a marvelously realized classroom with the mere addition of paint, blackboards, lockers, and assorted accoutrements. Susi Campos’s fabulous costumes help define each of Serial Killer Barbie’s killer cast of characters. Christina Robinson and Brad Bentz get high marks as well for their first-rate lighting design.
Serial Killer Barbie is produced by Theatre 68 and Take A Hike Productions.
If ever a new musical could be said to “have legs” (in addition to those onstage each night), it’s Serial Killer Barbie, a show that could easily become a college theater department favorite and (with a certain amount of raunch-reduction) make every high school’s must-do list—and every high school student’s must-see list as well.
Simply put, grades 1 through 12 have rarely if ever been more entertaining than they are in Serial Killer Barbie. I can’t wait to see it again.
SERIAL KILLER BARBIE 2.0
The only thing better than seeing Colette Freedman and Nickella Moschetti’s Serial Killer Barbie for the first time is seeing it a second time, my own return visit serving to confirm my first impression. Serial Killer Barbie is as thoroughly entertaining a new musical as you and I are likely to see anytime soon.
Performances remain every bit as stellar as they were the first time round, though I must admit to having paid even closer attention to leading lady Kelly Dorney’s spectacular pipes, shown off to both coloratura legit and Broadway belt perfection. And then there’s the force-of-nature that is Marti Maley’s maniacally brilliant “Debbi” along with her showstopping “Jesufy Me,” both of which deserved special mention the first time round. The oh-so catchy “21 Ways To Kill A Debbie” and Anne-Marie Osgood’s “lunchboxography” merited initial mention as well.
New the second time round is Bradley Estrin’s terrific take on Bruce. Not only does Estrin give “I Don’t Want To Be Different” the impact and poignancy it deserves, the different physicalities between Alex Holmes’ pony-tailed waif and Estrin’s huskier, smartly-coifed Bruce add to the excitement of seeing Bruce 2.0.
Female swing (and Scenie winner) Devon Hadsell as girl scout Rhonda (the role usually played by Estrin as boy scout Ronald) adds softer shadings to the character’s relationship with Jillian Fonacier’s fabulously foul-mouthed Sharon, and though the show’s overall male-female mix might be said to suffer by the gender switch, I can’t help feeling that the addition of a girl-girl couple makes Serial Killer Barbie even stronger and more inclusive. (Did I mention that Hadsell is as captivating as ever?)
A little birdie informs me that Serial Killer Barbie just might be extended into the new year. That would be terrific news indeed, and one worth a rousing Debbie-Debby-Debbi cheer!
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
November 28, 2014
Photos: Christian Kennedy