Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Brain That Wouldn't Die In 3-D

Review by Sacha Tengler

The Brain That Wouldn't Die! In 3-D!!! is a musical spoof of the 1962 film "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," a sci-fi flick "so bad it's good."  The original film, made on a shoestring budget, delved into themes such as medical ethics (a doctor's experimentation with the burgeoning science of transplantation drives the plot), and features many moments of operatic drama, making it a natural for musicalization.  It is also so absurd (and badly directed) that it is a natural for parody, and here arrives just that musical parody, in the tradition of such pieces as Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Brain... is receiving a top-notch NYMF production making a strong case for it to enjoy a longer life.  The A-list cast, superbly directed by Tim Drucker, gives an unusually strong ensemble performance, and the creative and design elements add up to a textbook example of how best to present a show on a NYMF-type budget. 

The music by T. Sivak, performed to perfection by a sizzling rock trio led by the energetic Annbritt DuChateau, is at its best when edgy, chromatic, and delightfully moody.  The comedic tone of the book is a bit scattered, however, and as a result of this, there are occasional longueurs, as well.

Fortunately, a production this strong should provide the writers with a great look at their show, and allow them to make the few judicious cuts to sharpen the satirical elements at play here.  There is a framing device, introduced in an opening number (perhaps meant in the tradition of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd") that could be seriously truncated -- the opening number is too long, and the framing device doesn't precisely work yet.

Further, songs like "My Dick!" a '50s-style doo-wop song making excessive fun of a characters' name being Dick (one of several running jokes throughout) digress from the story, have nothing to do with the original film, and become overly long musical genre pieces.  The writers have ladled on every style of comedy but the kitchen sink; I wish its methods were more focused. 

The show is at its best and funniest when the characters, so expertly drawn by this fine cast, play it straight, rather than commenting on the story.  In other words, it's hovering between the model of Little Shop (in which the characters are honest and real, and the humor is genuine) and that of Rocky Horror (which is pure camp), and I wish they would zero in on the former.  I would love to get my hands on the script, because there is nothing that needs to be added -- but some heartless cutting could strengthen it immensely. 
Great ingenuity has gone into the modest scenic elements, making the show seem uniquely suited to the low-budget requirements of a festival production.  A scene leading up to pivotal car crash is great fun, partly because of the way simple cut-outs are used to tell the story.  The sound design was strong as well, as each lyric was heard and the drama of the music was driving and balanced.  Lighting also used spare means to lend just the right atmosphere.  Overall, The Brain... is a great success, and I hope this twisted and very funny show finds a wider audience and finds even more edge and laughs in its next incarnation.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die! In 3D!!!

Book and Lyrics by T. Sivak and E. Gelman
Music by T. Sivak
at TBG Theater (312 W. 36th Street)

Thursday, Oct 6th, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, Oct 9th, 2011 at 5:00 pm
Sunday, Oct 9th, 2011 at 9:00 pm
Monday, Oct 10th, 2011 at 1:00 pm
Wednesday, Oct 12th, 2011 at 9:00 pm
Friday, Oct 14th, 2011 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Oct 16th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

No comments: