What’s Your Motivation | “Alien vs. Musical” @ HFF16

Alien vs. Musical (HFF16)userpic=fringeWell, it has begin. The Hollywood Fringe Festival (HFF) (FB). Over 275 live performance shows spread over 30 or so venues over the month of June.

We have also begun to Fringe (which, yes, is a verb). 15 Fringe shows (plus one regular show and two reunions) during the month of June. Possibly more, depending on if we had to the schedule. We may be sane, but that doesn’t mean we’re not crazy.

Our first Fringe show, Alien vs. Musical (FB),  was nominated for 10 HFF awards in 2015, winning Best World Premiere Production, Outstanding Songwriting, and The Encore! Producers Award. I had wanted to fit it in last year, but just couldn’t rejigger the schedule. Luckily, the show’s producers brought it back this year in a longer version.

How to describe the show? Let’s do it as a theatrical trailer….

In a world where musical theatre characters are real.

In a world where these characters share the same context and are friends.

In a world used to happy endings and tap-dancing dreams.

In such a world, an innocent gift of a pod found at a crash site sets into play a chain of events that reeks bloody havoc on the carefully coiffed character, but introduces a performer the likes of which hasn’t been seen on stage since Little Shop of Horrors.

Yup, that just about says it. The basic conceit of this show is that a bunch of musical theatre characters — Effie (from Dreamgirls), Danny (from Grease), Annie (from Annie), Harold (from The Music Man), Elder (from Book of Mormon), Tracy (from Hairspray), Valjean (from Les Miserables), Elphaba (from Wicked), Maria (from The Sound of Music), and Mark (from Rent) are having a birthday party for Effie. Annie finds a pod at a crash site, but before she can give it to Effie, it attacks Elder. From there the show is off: the Alien (from the titular movie of the same name) is off and bringing chaos to musical theatre land. If you know parody musical, I think you can take it from there.

The show, with book by Erik Przytulski (FB) and Steve Troop (FB), and music and lyrics by Erik Przytulski (FB), falls clearly into the parody musical genre. It cleanly skewers the style, songs, and characterizations of Broadway musicals such as those associated with the characters above, in addition to others such as Hamilton and West Side Story. It provides an opportunity for the audience to see well known theatrical protagonists get skewered — sometimes literally — in front of the audience. It also, in a sense, skewers shows such as Little Shop, with singing and dancing aliens with motivations very different from what a typical human might expect. But then again, we’re not talking normal humans. We’re talking actors and Broadway.

Under the direction of Matthew Tyler (FB), Alien vs. Musical (FB) clearly goes for the fun and the playfulness in the characters. It is clear that he loves these characters, and is having fun bring out there archetypes in the performances. The performances themselves are pretty good for Fringe: there are some strong players, and some that perform well be need stronger voice. There is loads of enthusiasm, channeled into a package that is clearly audience pleasing. The producer (Erik Przytulski (FB)) built upon last year’s successful 60 minute show to create a full 90 minutes that skewers even more musicals.

Lengthing the show permitted inclusion of new material, such as  wonderful rap battle between Harold Hill of The Music Man, and Alexander Hamilton of Hamilton.

The performances from the acting team are good. Some arise from good to the very good to the excellent, others can use a little work. We saw the first performance during preview week, so understand that any problems we may have seen will likely be corrected in subsquent performance.

The acting team consisted of: Levanna Atkinson-Williams (FB) [Effie], Christopher Bunyi (FB) [Danny]; Allie Costa (FB) [Annie], Nick Emmet McGee (FB) [Harold], Taylor Minckley (FB) [Elder], Ally Mulholland [Tracy], Matthew Noah (FB) [Valjean], Suszanna Petrela [Elphaba], Brianne Sanborn (FB) [Maria], and Brad Simanski (FB) [Mark].  Performance-wise, all captured their characters well, believably bringing forward the mannerisms of whomever’s persona they were assuming. Singing-wise, they were a bit more across the board. Some, such as Sanborn’s Maria or Noah’s Valjean, had a good acting voice but really needed stronger projection.  Others were belting their way through their songs from the get-go, such as Atkinson-Williams’s Effie or Costa’s Annie. Others were squarely in the middle, such as McGee’s Harold or Simanski’s Mark. Given this show is performed without amplification, the actors need to belt and project in order for the audience to hear them over the orchestra. One thing is clear, however — these actors are having fun with these roles, and that fun comes across to the audience.

The program does not credit the additional characters the actors portrayed. Most importantly, it does not credit the actors that portray the alien — in particular, the one that does the final performance of the alien. So, Ms. uncredited actor (I have a feeling it was Petrela), I just want to say you gave a stunning performance at the end, a performance that rivals that poser Audry2. Now there’s an epic battle: Audry 2 vs. Alien.

Music, under the music direction and music arrangements of  Emily Cohn (FB), is provided by an on-stage band consisting of Emily Cohn (FB) [Keyboards], Brenton Kossack (FB) [Bass], Taylor Murphy/FB [Drums], and Kyle Scherrer/FB [Guitar]. The musicians seemed to have fun playing along with the actors when required, particular Cohn.

The choreography by Regina Laughlin/FB worked well.

On the technical side: given this is a Fringe production, there isn’t much required in terms of set. After all, you have to be able to load in within 15 minutes, and out just as quickly. What the show does depend upon is the marvelous creature design of Steve Troop (FB), combined with the costume design of Taylor Moten (FB) and the make-up design of Rachel Tyler/FB. The alien puppets were simply great, and for the humans, the costumes mostly conveyed who they were intended to be. Perhaps the weakest was Valjean, who required the 24601 — perhaps because the costumes in that show are less iconic. Remaining creative and production credits: Steve Troop (FB) – Production Design; Beth Wallan (FB) – Stage Manager; Itzel Mendoza-Nava/FB – Assistant Stage Manager; Adam Earle – Technical Supervisor.

Alien vs. Musical (FB, HFF) has four more Fringe performances: Thursday, June 9th @ 7:00pm, Friday, June 17th @ 11:30pm, Thursday, June 23rd @ 8:30pm, and Sunday, June 26th @ 6:00pm. Alien vs. Musical performs at the former Elephant Stages Lillian space, which is now the Sacred Fools (FB) Main Stage at 1076 Lillian. Tickets are available through the Fringe website; buy a Fringe button and save a buck. For the NYC Folks: It looks like the show will be at FringeNYC in August.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.


One Reply to “What’s Your Motivation | “Alien vs. Musical” @ HFF16”

  1. Hi Daniel,

    I didn’t see the show last year either (where it got raves) and finally saw it last night. Sadly, I was very disappointed. While there is some cute choreography and I loved the idea of the show, it is poorly executed and most of the singing is beyond the capability of the singers. It’s hard to recommend the show based on what I saw last night, although I agree that Costa’s Annie wins the show. Fringe on.

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