They Came From Way Out There

By - Feb 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff

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With all the many different themes and subjects floating around local stages these past few years, it’s surprising that the paranormal hasn’t received much attention. The Milwaukee Rep rectifies this with a production of Jahnna Beecham and Malcom Hillgartner’s cabaret musical They Came From Way Out There. Authors of last year’s acclaimed cabaret show Chaps!, Beecham and Hillgartner have put together another enjoyable evening of song and dance for the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret.

The show is set at a meeting of a fictitious paranormal society. The performers each play a candidate for the Society’s next president. Every major different aspect of the paranormal is represented in the cast. Michael Herold plays the Society’s founder – a man who had a close encounter in the Nevada desert half a decade ago. Jill Marie Anderson plays his wife, who he met during an out of body experience. (Their meeting is illustrated in a clever country-western-inspired musical number entitled “You Stepped Out Of Your Body and Into My Life.” ) Anderson’s character is a prim, Christian New-Age type cleverly offset by the pseudo-neo-pagan New Ager played by Katherine Strohmaier. In a clever turn for the character’s archetype, she sings a sweet love song to a Bigfoot that manages a brilliant end rhyme with the word “Yetti.” Lenny Banovez plays the stereotypical young, paranoid conspiracy nut. Banovez cuts a pleasantly erratic figure onstage, performing the same song in both rock and hip-hop styles before performing a tender duet with Strohmaier near the end of the show. Chip DuFord rounds out the cast as a scientist who had worked for NASA, privy to strange government secrets about the paranormal. In one of the production’s best moments, DuFord discovers evidence of mysterious home furnishings appearing in the skies all over the country. He is confronted by a hyper-intelligent recliner who offers to answer any question he asks. Michael Herold plays the recliner in what has to be the single most brilliant costume to appear on a local stage in a very long time. It’s amazing.

The show’s pacing is wild and irreverent, including some surprisingly offbeat experimental stuff for The Rep. There’s an entire skit involving a rampaging bunny shadow puppet that may not be particularly funny (or really have much entertainment value, to be perfectly honest) but it shows a staggeringly edgy spirit for a mainstream show. Much of the rest of the fringe elements inherent in They Came From Way Out There are relegated to minor asides and obscure references that don’t detract from the overall experience. For all of its strange asides, this really is a mainstream show that will appeal to a relatively wide audience. Its weaker moments keep it from being completely enjoyable, firmly grounding it in the commercial end of the spectrum.

The many different skits and songs provide an opportunity for the actors to perform a wide range of different characters. DuFord’s straight-laced scientist is accompanied by multiple performances as burnt-out drunks. Strohmaier is sweet as a diminutive new age girl, but we also get to see her dressed up as a deftly dancing Man In Black in a fun little tribute to the Will Smith music video. This brings up an interesting point – this is a show firmly aimed at a much, much younger demographic than normally attends the Rep Cabaret. They may be aiming at a cabaret audience that simply doesn’t exist. VS

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of They Came From Way Out There runs now through March 11th at the Stackner Cabaret. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling the box office at 414-224-9490 or online at www.milwaukeerep.com.

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