Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: When Zombie Dreams Come to Life

The fear of the unknown plays with the mind. Especially when the mind is asleep. In the comically dark The Can Opener: A Brief Horror Musical by M. Zachary Johnson, young Bobbi loves home life, fears college, and predicts gruesome deaths through her premonitions.
Billed as a Dr. Seuss-styled farce, The Can Opener is whimsically dark musical where the absurd runs ramped. Bobbi, a girl on the verge of college, fantasizes about a life with the man of her dreams, Apollo, but when Bobbi drifts off into dreamland, she has nightmares of zombies. When Bobbi awakes, her zombie dreams have turned into premonition reality after there are gruesome deaths where heads are opened like cans. When her time to go to college finally comes, Bobbi discovers the root of her fears. Johnson’s musical is filled with incongruity. With the knowledge of the inspiration, Johnson’s story is fairytale-like and passable. It’s weird and spooky but is a bit lacking in substance. With the majority of the plot told through song, ensuring the key bits of information are highlighted is important, specifically the connection to Bobbi’s fear of college. Confusion as to Bobbi’s age due to her costume and hair may factor in to the college connection. Bobbi’s journey is interesting and has potential to reach an audience who may share the fear of the unknown.
The ensemble in The Can Opener is a mixed bag. Sharon Lam as Bobbi was weak in voice but strong with conviction. Lam has a unique voice but it may not be full enough to carry the weight of the show. On the other hand, Andrew Blair and Meghan Pulles as the zombies and students have the strongest voices in the lot. With an ensemble of two, their harmonies are tight and pure. Jesse Corbin as Apollo had very little to do but made great use of his time, using all the charm and charisma he had to make you want more Apollo. It was fitting that both Bobbi and Lam felt safest with Corbin.
Director Kenneth Oefelein had endless possibilities when it came to creating Johnson's world. What resulted did not do justice as the possibilities for a dark, whimsical world that gives the piece such great potential. A festival setting is hard to convey the quirkiness that would have made the piece stronger. Where Oefelein did succeed was in his staging. Isolating the locations allowed for mostly seamless transitions, with the exception of the music-less transition into the college world. Though audibility was aided, canned music was a great disservice to the piece. It forced the ensemble to wait and sing, forcing them unnaturally out of character for moments.
The Can Opener has potential for something interesting when Bobbi’s world can effectively be created. The themes Johnson explores are universal and a farcical musical is a fitting approach.