Scary Musical: The Musical

by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 23, 2014

Keir Kirkegaard and Jane Papageorge
Keir Kirkegaard and Jane Papageorge   (Source:Michael Lamont)

Picture the myriad sequels and copycat films that were spawned by "Scary Movie," which itself seemed inspired by "Airplane!" the granddaddy of all off-the-wall genre sendups. Add in a goofy rock score that is equal parts "Rocky Horror Show" and "Rock of Ages," with a touch of Monty Python on speed. The hilariously grisly result of that audacious brew is an intimate new stage tuner called "Scary Musical, The Musical," which has bowed at the NoHo Arts Center.

Crafted by a distinguished team of veteran talents, the grisly goofball of a show exhibits enormous promise in its premiere rendition. The book is by seasoned director-writer Richard Hochberg, while music and lyrics are by Hochberg alongside pedigreed Broadway performer Michael Paternostro ("Guys and Dolls," "Fosse," "Sweet Smell of Success").

Add to this a fortuitous collaboration among longtime spouses Kevin Bailey (executive producer) and James J, Mellon (director-choreographer), who have premiered many memorable plays and musicals at this theater over the past decade. The result is a joyously entertaining sendup, a gloriously giddy flight of fancy.

Besides kidding the pants off films that were specifically designed as genre spoofs, Hochberg and Paternostro rummage through horror-film history to poke fun at the real thing -- including such spooky classics as Hitchcock's "Psycho" (a character named Norman Hates played by August Emerson), the Stephen King opus "Carrie" (a religious-freak character named Carrie Beige, played by Leigh Golden) and the "Halloween" films (a character named Jamie Lee Leigh, played by Jane Papageorge), plus many silly but hilarious references to vintage storylines. (There are even sidesplitting jabs at a camp classic that is not quite a horror film, though at times it felt like one: "Mommie Dearest.")

This is structured as a show-within-a-show as a high school production in a fictional town called Hidden Secrets, USA, where "Scary Musical" is being cast. (The school is called the Vera Miles High School -- another reference to "Psycho.") We soon learn an escapee from a local insane asylum is on the lam and has embarked on a murderous spree that has found its way to the high school, claiming two victims within the first few minutes.

In a remarkably ridiculous coincidence, a sexy new girl who has enrolled at the school, the aforementioned Jamie Lee Leigh (Papageorge), is a dead ringer -- well, not quite "dead" -- for the just-murdered co-ed Drew Campbell (Laurel Carlson).

In a remarkably ridiculous coincidence, a sexy new girl who has enrolled at the school, the aforementioned Jamie Lee Leigh (Papageorge), is a dead ringer -- well, not quite "dead" -- for the just-murdered co-ed Drew Campbell (Laurel Carlson).

Other characters in the array of campy portrayals include egomaniacal and ultra-horny jock Jason Craven (Keir Kirkegaard), who habitually bares his pecs; the neurotic Norman Hates (Emerson), who is still haunted by the controlling voice of his departed mummy dearest; a cordial hipster and killer-diller dancer named Freddy (Frank Authello Andrus Jr.); and the mincing drama teacher Mr. MacGuffin (Matthew Tyler), who lusts after Jason and can't wait to don ladies' garments.

Visitors to the school are ball-busting news reporter Leeza (Candy Milo), prowling all over campus while looking to solve the mystery and land a juicy scoop, and her beleaguered cam operator Teena (Jennifer Bennett).

A tradition that is quite popular in murder mystery dinner theater -- letting the audience guess the killer -- is smartly adapted to the tweeting era here, as viewers are encouraged to pull out their devices at a particular point and vote their guess as to the killer's identity. Then, after results are checked, the performers complete the show, based on the winning vote. This is a clever device, clearly adored by the audience. I have to admit this fuddy-duddy reviewer has never advanced beyond the old-fashioned cell phone era, so I amusingly watched rather than participating in this ritual.

The score includes a cornucopia of rib-tickling songs and exuberant dance numbers, dazzlingly staged by Mellon. Musical direction by Brent Crayon and orchestrations by Kenny Seymour are boffo. And salutes are due to Desma Murphy's deliciously atmospheric and functional unit set, Shon LeBlanc's inspired costumes, Luke Moyer's superb lighting effects, Cricket S. Myers' splendid sound effects, Paula Cantania's projections, and Joel Ward's illusion and magic effects.

Though the ambitious show could use trimming and refining to eliminate some gags that misfire and to generally tighten the proceedings, the show is already a rousing crowd pleaser. The performing ensemble is first-rate, with nary a weak link in the bunch. Alfred Hitchcock, Busby Berkeley, and the Wayans brothers, eat your hearts out.

"Scary Musical, the Musical" runs through Nov. 23 at the NoHo Performing Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., in North Hollywood. For tickets or information, call 818-508-7101, ext. 6 or visit