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BEYOND!

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at the Write Act Theater

In its early moments, this campy tuner from writer Cornell Christianson and composer-lyricists S.M. Schwartz and Norman Thalheimer brings to mind Little Shop of Horrors, but that impression quickly fades. While the best horror-film spoofs walk a tightrope between flashes of genuine terror and a predominant tongue-in-cheek sensibility, this new musical settles for pure silliness. That approach might be palatable for those in the mood for lowbrow yuks if the book and score were consistently funny, which is not the case here. Yet the vehicle's most glaring flaw is a confusing and meandering story.

Director Coy Middlebrook might consider handing out flow-charts to clarify a narrative that his clumsy staging fails to elucidate. In fairness, he faced an uphill struggle in assimilating Christianson's convoluted maze of characters and plot points. The unwieldy mishmash includes giddy high school romance à la Grease, military satire, a sendup of vintage alien-invasion B-movies, and jabs at the 1950s Communist scare. This problem isn't helped by a framing device in which the central character, high school science nerd Harold (Kevin Earley), reads from a comic book—inexplicably the size of a coffee-table tome—to narrate the story. This makes little sense, as the text he recites is in the form of a novel, rather than the dialogue balloons one finds in the comics. As if all of this weren't cumbersome enough, three actors play dual roles. Split-second character and locale shifts—and actors not making costume changes—lead to frequent disorientation.

Among the pluses are several nifty rock-pop songs—especially "Fifties Kinda Guy," "It's So Easy To Be Free," and "Pure Chemistry"—and the golden tones emanating from the vocally gifted Earley, who plays the hapless hero as well as a mad-scientist professor. The other actor-singers (Heather Marie Marsden, Todd Fournier, Stephen Breithaupt, Ali Spuck) also do creditable work, despite the haphazard material. Unfortunately their dialogue and song lyrics are sometimes overpowered by a blaring prerecorded soundtrack. Choreographer Marsden stages several buoyant numbers, providing welcome bright spots amid the plodding two hours. One song inadvertently sums up the shallowness of this diffuse enterprise: "I'm Blank."

Reviewed by Les Spindle

Presented by ICFB Productions at the Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood. Fri. 8 p.m. Sat. 3 & 8 p.m. Jan. 7-Feb. 25. (310) 827-5232.

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