Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fringe Encores: Zipperface!!?! The Hobo Musical

Every single mark of punctuation is necessary in the title Zipperface!!?!--the problem Gregory Bing faces as a director, trying to stage Jon Bershad, Dave Rothstadt, and Andy Wolf's "hobo musical," is that the punctuation isn't earned from the writing. It's far easier to make fun of musicals, in other words, than it is to make good musicals (like Urinetown) and even when you try to excuse yourself with a song like "Let's Put on a Terrible Play," you've still got to at least hold up to the standards of good camp (see Matt Stone and Trey Parker's deadpan Cannibal: The Musical).

What a delightful surprise, then, to find that this New Brunswick-based trio has actually come up with something as zany as The Toxic Avenger Musical. While it's not nearly as polished in its performances, the group numbers like "What Are We Going to Do (With All These Dead Prostitutes?)" are ebullient, and some of the actors have terrific belting voices, like Lauren Perri, who plays the detective lead, Lisa Rider, and Big Rich Armstead, who plays the always smiling, robot-obsessed hobo Jeremiah. (Extra credit to Dave Rothstadt, who, as Franklin, the musical's narrator/creator, sings the entire show in a scratchy "hobo" voice.) A little can-do can go a long way, and most of the cast acquits itself well by just powering through.

Still, it's a little hard to praise Zipperface!!?!, which on account of being a meta-musical that's all jokes, often repeats itself. With a little more work on pruning away the redundant bits (the go-nowhere camp of Alley Cat and Zipperface's little mid-air leaps), tightening up the meta comedy (three "audience members" are pulled on stage to be hookers, but it loses effect when one of those "dead" bodies just gets up and walks off again), and polishing the intentionally ragged bits (so that they all hit with as much punch as the terrific twist of "Finale Song"), this show can be the guilt-free indulgence it hopes to be.

No comments: