Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: Let These Bedbugs Bite!

There are many scary things in New York City but the most feared thing this city is faced with: bedbugs. With the magic of timing on their side, New York has been struck with a new outbreak of these tiny, pesty creatures taking over the subways. And now those tiny bugs are taking over musical theater. In the new musical Bedbugs!!!, a scientist on a mission sets out to destroy the population of bedbugs only to accidentally cause a mutation of anamorphic bedbugs eager to take over the world.
photo courtesy of Rex Bonomelli
With a mix of Little Shop and The Toxic Avenger, Bedbugs!!!, with music by Paul Leschen and book and lyrics by Fred Sauter, lives in a hilarious world of Sci Fi musical comedy. The musical follows Carly and Burt as she creates a toxic extermination spray that contains an ingredient that doesn't kill but mutates. Along their journey they encounter a cast of zany characters including an abundance of New York stereotypes, a Canadian pop star, an undersexed bug king, and a legion of bedbugs. Once the mutation has occurred, all hell breaks lose on the city, and the libretto. The story gets crazy as Cimex, the bug king, begins to fall in love with his creator, Carly, forcing her to be his queen. Despite the insane plot line, by presenting it in such a campy manner, it all works cohesively with the rest of the script. For a musical that lives in it’s own imaginary world, the one hang up that could be delved into further is the exact cause of the mutation. The ingredient that causes the train reaction needs a clearer and larger set up, perhaps by Burt, so it's understood that its inclusion is bad for all rather than informing when the moment is right. Leschen’s pop infused score is catchy and fun, rarely relying on a power ballad to win over the audience. However when Leschen does slow down the music, it’s usually given to pop star Dionne Salon which is a hilarious ode to her inspiration.
photo courtesy of Rex Bonomelli
The high-energy ensemble seemed to have the best time living in the bedbug-ridden trash heap of New York City. Leading the pack was Nicholas Park in a role he was born to play. Park as loveable Burt brought a ridiculous amount of physical comedy and honesty to the gay boy with a mission. If ever there was a character, and actor, who deserve a spinoff, it’s Park’s Burt. And perhaps idol Dionne Salon could make an appearance. Brian Charles Rooney channels his inner diva as the Celine Dion knock off Dionne Salon. Rooney, who looks stunning in costume designer Philip Heckman’s wardrobe, discovers all the right moments to be Dionne and when to bring Celine out, including her spot on signature “lurves”. Rooney has so many show stopping moments killing Leschen’s score effortlessly. Grace McLean as Carly was lacking in her overall performance, being outdone by the tried and true comedians in the ensemble. She did have a redeeming moment with her breakout number “He Pierced Me.” Despite his own brand of killer voice, Chris Hall as Cimex, Lord of the Bedbugs, lived in a different style of comedy that didn't blend well. His portrayal of Cimex was too Frank-N-Futer that it lacked originality. In the ensemble, Barry Shafrin and Tracey Conyer Lee had some brilliant comedic moments as Mason the gay hipster and constant wig-changing TV reporter Belinda Bedford respectively.
Director and choreographer Robert Bartley easily took Leschen and Sauter’s whacky world and translated it to the stage. Bartley took the science fiction genre and ensured that the comedy within would be showcased. Bartley was greatly aided by the brilliant design team. Costume designer Philip Heckman and wig, hair, and makeup designer Bobbie Cliffton Zlotnik were the unsung heroes of the production manifesting the creatures to human form and even giving each one their own unique personality. Adam Demerath’s transformative set allowed for the scum of New York to be highlighted beautifully. The only problem the company seemed to have was handling the breaks on the tiered mattress cart. Prop designer Cameron Pate deserves some recognition for some of the innovative props including the supersoaker-like spray guns and the glowing baby bedbugs.
With a title like Bedbugs!!!, it’s natural to have trepidations about the quality of the show. Unlike many new musicals nowadays that don’t know where it wants to live, Bedbugs!!! is musical comedy genius. Giving these feared creatures the musical treatment is just so right.