Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Behold the Chupacabra!

There tends to be monotony when it comes to musical theater. All new musicals seem to follow the same themes and style causing them to blend into one another. But when something different arrives, you take note. Beware the Chupacabra is just that. Different. With book and lyrics by R. Patrick Alberty and music by Christian De Gre, the story follows seamstress Teddy (yes, he's a boy) who gets himself caught in a pretty ill-timed situation: the father of his girl forces him to hunt down the mythical Chupacabra. Despite an insane amount of excess material all over the place that desperately needs to be trimmed, Beware the Chupacabra is a unique and exciting new musical. What makes it enticing is the tonality and visual style of the show. The best way to describe it is a mash up between the heart of Disney, the whimsy of Tim Burton, and dry tone of Wes Anderson. If that doesn't get you intrigued, I don't know what will. Beware the Chupacabra follows the recipe of musical theater, which is how R. Patrick Alberty runs into the problem of too much material. It's all there. There's a love story. And dance numbers. And subplots. By the end of the show, Alberty and De Gre have provided three or four potential eleven o'clock numbers. The key to this story is Teddy. Any material that does not directly or indirectly involve him could be prime for the trimming. And even so, the latter bits with Jasper have little baring on Teddy’s arc, as we have long forgotten the store owner. Beware the Chupacabra has all the material of an incredible musical present, but it's surrounded by the unnecessary. Does it mean losing some fun material, especially for bad guy Arris Warner? Yes. But once the fluff is gone, the vast potential will shine bright. The score by De Gre blends 20s jazz with Broadway standards and a touch of regional Mexican flare. When they unite, the musical through line is quite exciting to hear. As is an orchestration with a present and proud bass clarinet.
The ensemble that comprised Beware the Chupacabra was certainly committed to going all out. Alberty and De Gre played upon sight gags and stereotypes, meaning everyone needed to play along. And they did. The glue of the musical is Teddy. Teddy is a beautifully endearing and optimistic character. That's what makes him so incredible to follow. And Vinnie Urdea plays him near flawlessly. Urdea as Teddy has a Michael Cera charm to him, dorky yet endearing, with a pure vocal. As bad dad, Arris Warner, Everett O’Neill seemed to have more fun than anyone by getting to be sinister and vile. O’Neill is the stuff that Disney villains are made on. The unsung hero of the show is Robert Moreira as Tipo. Moreira played the stereotypes and earned the uproarious laughs. Moreira has an ease to his comedic presence. He’s subtle, yet overt. He simply walks on stage and it’s hilarious. Charly Dannis as La Chupacabra had a very difficult task. With Alberty borrowing a device from a certain 2009 Pixar film, Dannis was able to communicate in “human” by wearing a collar. Dannis sold it. And sold the bond she had with Urdea’s Vinnie. You can make so many Disney references about this show because of Teddy and Chupacabra’s bond. It is almost as touching as the pair in “The Fox and the Hound.” And this musical is steps away from garnering tears.
Beware the Chupacabra strives on the visual appeal. Costume designer Ashley Soliman and scenic designer Kyle O’Connor are the true soul of this musical. Their designs are cohesive and stunning. Soliman’s use of color is rewarding. She keeps the city world quite dreary with subtle bursts of color. This allows the color within the sepia-toned Mexico to radiate. O’Connor’s set was practical, despite occasional transition issues with too many moving pieces. With Alberty and De Gre serving as co-directors, it’s inevitable that it was difficult to eliminate any material. But to their credit, they presented a very clear and cohesive vision. The style was consistent and interesting.
The situation within the story may be farfetched, but by blending comedy with mythology and a touching tale of friendship between man and beast, there is something that is certain to pull you in. Two plus hours with no intermission is difficult to sit through but when the script gets stripped, Beware the Chupacabra will be magical.