Look, in the sky! Saucers! And they’re invading the San Fernando Valley!

Last night we went down into the Anaheim Hills (quite a schlep) to The Chance Theatre to see the musical “The Brain from Planet X”, part of the summer Festival of New American Musicals. Before I gush about the show, a few words about the theatre itself, for I’d never been there before last night. The Chance is a small (about 70 seats, if memory serves correct) black-box theatre at the edge of an industrial park near Imperial Highway and Route 91… with a strong rep company. I meant to get out there earlier this year, when they had a production of “Assassins”. For a small company and a small theatre, they are quite ambitious–they’re next production (for example) is “Evita”, and somehow they even find the space for live musicians. I can’t say we’re be regulars (given the distance), but we’ll certainly keep our eye on their future productions.

Back to our story. “The Brain From Planet X” (book by David Wechter and Burce Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Kimmel) tells the story of aliens intent on world domination taking over the 1958 San Fernando Valley (because we all know it is the stepping stone to the rest of civilization). Their e-vil plan, Plan 10 (for Plan 9 from Outer Space has already been done), involves using their Will Bender ray to destroy family values and turn Americans into automatons, communicating through keyboards and personal wireless devices. Their attack starts with a typical American family living in a tract house in Van Nuys, Fred (who works for a defense contractor on a top-secret thermonuclear device in Pacoima), Joyce (a June Cleaver-esque housewife), their daughter Donna (a good girl who wants to be bad), and Professor Leder, Joyce’s father (an old history professor). Constantly with Donna is her beat poet boyfriend, Rod. After the aliens (the Brain, Zubrick, and Yonni) land, they first bend Joyce to their will, and then Fred. Battling the aliens are General Mills (attempting to go from 1 Star to 5 Star), and Private Partz. Overseeing the whole shindig is a Narrator, who also coordinates the Feel-A-Rama affect of the production. As you may have guessed, the whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek (something Yonni would probably like).

The cast (which consisted of a large number of company members, indicated with *) did an excellent job of the piece. Narrating the adventure with a strong satiric voice (as well as playing Professor Leder) was Michael Irish*. Irish had strong exaggerated movements as the narrator; as Leder, he successfully morphed into an old man. Fred and Joyce were played by Bob Simpson* and Allison Appleby. Both were excellent, but I particularly enjoyed Appleby’s housewife, and her glazed expression after her will was bent. Donna, their daughter, was played with gleeful abandon by Shannon Cudd, bouncing continually around the stage. Her oblivious beatnik boyfriend Rod was played by Dimas Diaz*. Helping defend the world against the alien attack were Warren Draper* as General Mills and Dan Flapper, in a mostly silent but very expressive part as Private Partz.

Turning to the aliens. Leading the attack on the Valley was The Brain, played by Mark Rothman. Rothman’s brain was a disheveled leader, more comic than threatening. Assisting him in the tody assistant role was Zubrick, played by Daniel Berlin. Lastly (and our favorite) was Emily Clark*, who had such joy, and was so expressive, she just stole the stage whenever she was on in. Rounding out the cast as the Ensemble were Cody Anderson, Jamie Lee Baker, Marlana Filannino, Patrick Robert Kelly, and Jenna Romano.

Technically, the theatre attempted to use its small space well. For the most part, it did, with a projection approach that worked pretty well. There were a lot of actor mic-ing problems, and my wife and daughter commented on some costuming problems. The technical staff featured lighting design by KC Wilkerson, set design and projections by Masako Tobaru*, sound design by Dave Mickey and Mitchell Kohen*, and costume design by deb Millison. The production featured a three-piece band, consisting of Bill Strongin* on piano, Lonn Hayes on percussion, and Ross Craton on reeds.

The program was directed by the co-author, composer, and lyricist Bruce Kimmel (MyS), with musical direction by Bill Strongin*, choreography by Adam Cates, orchestrations by Larry Moore, and vocal and dance arrangements by Larry Goldberg. Jonathan Josephson* was the Dramaturg. The stage manager was Courtny Greenough*, assisted by Rosalynn Nguyen.

The production continues through June 8, 2008, in repertoire with “Rabbit Hole” by David Lindsay-Abaire. Ticket information at the Chance Theatre website.

As for us, what’s next on the theatre calendar. This afternoon is “Pippin” at East-West Players. Sun 5/17 @ 2pm is “The Full Monty” at REP East Playhouse. The following weekend, Sat 5/24 @ 8pm we’re seeing “Of Mice and Men” at Pasadena Playhouse. The following weekend all of nsshere’s hard work pays off in the production of “Grease” at Nobel Middle School (5/29 @ 6:30pm, 5/30 @ 6:30pm, and 5/31 @ 2:30pm and 6:30pm). June brings “A Very Brady Musical” at Theatre West (Sat, 6/14 @ 8pm) and “A Chorus Line” @ Ahmanson Theatre (Sat, 6/28 @ 2pm). Lastly, July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), and “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 7/31 @ 2pm). I’m still exploring tickets for “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (6/22 or 7/5) and “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (7/13).