by Hiko Mitsuzuka
The horror genre gets delightfully skewered in director-choreographer James J. Mellon's Scary Musical The Musical, an electrifying production that gleefully flips every slasher film trope on its head (now running through November 9 at the NoHo Arts Center).
The scene: Vera Miles High School. The story: someone's slicing and dicing the members of the school's drama club before their opening night extravaganza. Meanwhile, a patient has escaped from a nearby mental institution (naturally). Horror enthusiasts may recognize a similarity in this past summer's indie satire Stage Fright, but unlike that letdown of a slasher, this briskly paced musical (at a lean, intermission-free 90 minutes) delivers all the goods on top of a kickass pop-rock soundtrack, thanks to music and lyrics by Richard Hochberg and Michael Paternostro.
With characters named Leeza Courtney Fox, Norman Hates, Freddy Louissier, Jason Cravin, Jamie Lee Leigh, and Carrie Beige, horror fanatics will get a kick out of all of the nods to the genre classics and jump at some of the impressive special effects that jolt the audience throughout the show.
Playing Norman Hates is a sufficiently creepy August Emerson, who could very well be an Edward Gorey-drawn character come to life. With a mop of jet-black hair and a ghostly pale complexion, Emerson delivers lines with a psychotic energy (the dude also has a killer voice - check out his showstopping solo, "Mother"). And then there's Colorado native Keir Kirkegaard, whose rippling abs nearly steal a couple of scenes. But what really stands out is Kirkegaard's uncanny physical and vocal resemblance to superstar Justin Timberlake (I wouldn't be surprised if the actor moonlights as an impersonator).
Several of the cleverly written songs deserve a bigger stage, but under some tight and smart direction, they soar inside the 99-seat venue. The opening number, "Killer in the House," perfectly sets up the deliciously devious tone while "High School Can Be Murder" is an anthem that not only wittily introduces our heroes and heroines, it shines as a theme song of Joss Whedon-esque proportions -- it's like a lost track from Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Once More With Feeling" songbook. And finally, "Baby Let Me Come Inside" is the on-the-nail, pun-tastic performance it sounds like, admirably carried out by Kirkegaard and actress-dancer Jane Papageorge.
The only tune that comes close to steering the musical terror train off the track is "Out of Africa," a number that's a bit heavy on exposition and light on focusing on the themes at hand. But no matter: by the time the blood hits the fan in the third act's zany climax, you'll be glad you hopped aboard this superfun crazy train.
And just who is the killer? Thanks to an interactive component -- the audience gets to live-tweet and vote for their suspect -- there isn't one definitive answer. (Shades of 1985's Clue, anyone?)
Get your tickets HERE now.