Sally Spectre: The Musical

Pity poor Sally Spectre. She cannot get out of her quilted Victorian bedroom, and she cannot get her mother to come fetch her. Sally's toy companions—a London bobby and a peculiarly quadrangular clown—haven't the heart to reveal the truth behind her surreal situation, nor can they prohibit the menacing spirit who appears to have an eternal agenda for Sally. Not to mention Sally's flashes of catatonia and terrible headaches, likely due to the hatchet sticking out of her head.

There you have author-composer David P. Johnson's far-from-completed yet strangely intriguing musical about a juvenile ghost who cannot comprehend her spectral condition. Director Janet Miller gives this off-the-wall material a sprightly, brightly inventive staging, and her cast is nothing if not valiant.

Justine Huxley is Sally, alternately perky and supine, graced by Huxley's exactly right deadpan moxie and lovely soprano voice. Matthew Hoffman runs the gamut of tickling, stiff-limbed maneuvers as bobby Bartholomew. Hudsen Cy Schuchart offers a noteworthy range of personas as the stitched-together clown. Paul Walling gamely grapples with the anachronisms of the soul-grabbing Wraith; Robert W. Laur and Sarah Schulte make the most of his extrovert apprentices; and, as underused spider Calypso, uncredited Wenzel Jones does a hilarious voiceover at the outset.

Johnson, who accompanies them from a synthesizer as Archimedes Keys, is talented, offering a few pleasant post-Sondheim melodies, and his premise has promise. What it needs is a thematic point beyond the basic situation, a rhyming dictionary—some of his false rhymes are beyond awkward—and a book doctor, or at least a good perusal of Edward Gorey's canon. The intended mix of macabre and mirth fails to materialize, and for every bit that works, two more just sit there. Given that, Johnson should keep at it, because this frilly ghost story has oddly endearing potential.

Presented by A News of Spite Productions at the NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Oct. 21-Nov. 20. Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.