Orange County Premiere, Part of the Festival of New American Musicals
Brain From Planet X
by David Wechter & Bruce Kimmel
Directed by Bruce Kimmel
- 02/05/08 ARTICLE: Talkin'Broadway.com
- 04/04/08 ARTICLE: The Christian Science Monitor
- 04/16/08 BLOG: OCRegister.com
- 05/01/08 ARTICLE: LA Stage Magazine
- 05/01/08 ARTICLE: Press-Enterprise
- 05/05/08 REVIEW: What The Butler Saw
- 05/08/08 REVIEW: Blade Magazine
- 05/09/08 REVIEW: EDGE Los Angeles
- 05/09/08 REVIEW: Los Angeles Times
- 05/11/08 REVIEW: Orange County Register
- 05/14/08 ARTICLE: Theater Mania
- 05/14/08 REVIEW: Back Stage West
- 05/18/08 REVIEW: StageSceneLA
- 05/19/08 REVIEW: Fullerton Observer
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February 5, 2008
THE BRAIN FROM PLANET X
LOS ANGELES CAST
Originally reviewed: 3/1/07
1958 in the sunny California suburbs of freshly scrubbed America is the setting for the sci-fi spoof The Brain from Planet X. Deliciously silly and broad both in its parodies of picture perfect white bread 1950s All-American families and the cheesy "B" movies, as well as musical comedy clichés - the show is a hoot on disc with its happy-go-luckless characters and their turmoil when aliens and conflicted feelings invade their sanctity and sanity.
Bruce Kimmel wears many hats: songwriter, album producer, the show's director in L.A. and New York, and co-bookwriter (with David Wechter, who contributed to two of the songs, including the giddy dance number, "The Brain Tap") . Over the top it is, but the madness does not overstay its welcome and peter out: it just gets on a roll. Unlike some confections and goofy fun-fests, it's still amusing on repeat plays. The cast sounds totally committed to the wackiness, and the songs are catchy, clever and nervy; a sense of demented joy rather than mean-spirited sass keeps things afloat.
Tired of 'Grease' and 'Phantom of the Opera'?
So is L.A.
In Southern California, an ambitious Festival of New American Musicals aims to generate new great works to replace the constantly recycled old ones.
by Gloria Goodale, The Christian Science Monitor
April 4, 2008
From Santa Barbara to San Diego, Southern California is alive with the sound of new music as it prepares to host the first of what organizers hope will be an annual "Festival of New American Musicals" in May.
Venues ranging from the tiny, 45-seat Chance Theater in Anaheim to the 2,265-seat Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles are rehearsing projects such as "Norman's Ark," an epic with a cast of 300 based on the floods of recent years, and "The Brain from Planet X," a 1950s retro-sci-fi spoof. [Editor's note:The original version of the story mischaracterized "Norman's Ark" as an opera.]
This explosion of creativity is the idea of co-executive producers Marcia Seligson and Bob Klein, who see the nearly nine-week-long event as both a celebration of the vitality of current American musical theater, as well as a warning about recycling classic productions to diminishing artistic returns.
For Ms. Seligson, the idea came on the heels of a 10 year stint at the helm of "Reprise! Broadway's Best," a Los Angeles revival showcase devoted to presenting rarely seen, but important, musical theater.
"We got to a point where we realized we were running out of material," says Seligson. "Unless something was done to seed the next generation of great musicals, we wouldn't have anything to produce in the future."
As the team turned its focus from producing classic material to nurturing new talent, it became clear they were riding a wave of what many in the industry call American musical theater's second golden era.
"There is no doubt that the musical theater as an art form is in a renaissance," says nearly 40-year veteran composer Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked," "Godspell," "Pippin"). Whether it's a result of the MTV generation coming of age, or the fact that we are living in an environment saturated with sound, "this is the art form that young talent appears to want to work with now - the art of words put to music," says Mr. Schwartz.
Evidence of the current affection for the heightened art form that weds music with words is strewn across the popular culture landscape, observes New York director Isaac Robert Hurwitz, pointing to such diverse examples as the musical comedy episodes of popular television shows ("Scrubs," "Family Guy," "That '70s Show") and the proliferation of popular musicals being made into movies such as "Legally Blonde" and "Hairspray."
The musical theater veteran recalls the dark days a few decades back when mega-hit musicals such as "Phantom of the Opera" were being produced, yet experimental work was all but impossible to finance.
Mr. Hurwitz helped found the New York Musical Theatre Festival, now in its fifth season, to address the problem. He welcomes the L.A. Festival as a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to nurture one of America's two native art forms (the other being jazz). Hurwitz says it takes many misfires to find the few hits that keep the American musical healthy.
"The festival format provides an important spotlight and platform for getting new work produced," he says. "If you want a vibrant musical-theater culture, you need to have that critical mass to sustain it during the downtimes."
But it's not enough to nurture the art form; audiences need to be cultivated as well, say festival organizers. Community engagement is a key strategy of the festival's planning. In addition to nearly 40 productions, there will be workshops, readings, seminars, and master classes.
One of the event's largest productions, the epic "Norman's Ark," features a large number of amateur children and adults from the community, "much as the early primitive storytelling did," says Glen Roven, the composer. Back in the earliest days of drama there was no separation between audience and performers, he says.
Developing the next generation of musical-theater lovers is a high priority for the L.A. festival, too. Nine area high schools and colleges - including South Gate, a high school located in a low-income neighborhood - are staging productions.
South Gate's drama teacher, Howard Dando, has written a modern musical update of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the event. "It's important for the kids to feel the excitement of new material, and not just perform another year of 'Bye Bye Birdie' or 'Grease,' " says Mr. Dando. Beyond that, he adds, who knows what might come from it? After all, he points out, one of off-Broadway's most enduring hits, "The Fantasticks," originated from a drama teacher in a little town in Texas.
Dando is set to retire this year and worries about the future of his musical-theater program. He says he is one of only 10 high school drama teachers in all of Los Angeles's Unified School District, the nation's second largest. Most schools do not make theater a high priority, an attitude the festival is hoping to address.
The festival faces certain challenges, most notably the sheer sprawl of Los Angeles. Unlike New York, which can hold a theater festival where all the venues are within walking distance of one another, this city lacks a geographical center. But it has one important asset for the development of new material: a pool of musically gifted talent that has migrated here for movie and television work.
The city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, believes the festival will galvanize Los Angeles's creative community.
"Los Angeles is pushing this country's cultural envelope across the arts spectrum - from experimental architecture to our unabashed pursuit of edgy, young composers - and I could not be prouder to add performing arts to the list," he writes in an e-mail. "I hope this ambitious festival blossoms into a magnet for new talent for years to come."
Giant brain poised to take over Anaheim Hills
by Paul Hodgins, OCRegister.com
April 16, 2008
Veteran sitcom giant Mark Rothman, the co-creator of "Laverne and Shirley" and a writer-producer for "Happy Days," will appear on this side of the Orange Curtain in the title role of "Brain From Planet X." The sci-fi spoof (possibly based on the hideous classic shown above) will open next month at The Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills as part of the Festival of New American Musicals, a Southern California-wide celebration of musical theater. It will run from May 3 through June 8.
"Rothman is actually a friend of Bruce Kimmel's, who's directing," said Chance spokesman Casey Long. "(Kimmel) composed the music and co-wrote the book."
This isn't a world premiere, Long said. "It's been done a couple of times before. It went to New York and was part of a festival of muscials there, and it got some good reviews from the New York Times and such. But this is actually the first time it's ever been done in O.C."
So just what is "Brain" about, anyway? "It's a hilarious spoof on bad 1950s sci-fi movies," Long explained. "Basically it's about an evil brain and its cohorts who come down and try to take over the planet by bending the wills of the family units." Geez, I hate it when that happens!
Tackiness and egregious mistakes are promised, Long said. "It will look cheesy: lots of set pieces not working properly. And also this show incorporates Feel-o-Rama, which means there'll be some audience participation. There are a couple of winks to Ed Wood in there, too."
No word yet on what Rothman's giant, oozing brain costume looks like.
The Festival of New American Musicals
by David C. Nichols, LA Stage
May 1, 2008
This month marks the launch of an extraordinary venture when the Festival of New American Musicals begins its two-month trek across Southern California. Presented by the Bank of New York Mellon and a dizzying array of sponsors, including the ASCAP Foundation, KUSC-FM and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, this cross-cultural celebration of musical theatre is an undertaking of nearly unprecedented scope and diversity.
Over 20 professional companies, with a representative swath of Southland high schools, colleges and intersecting concert venues, are participating. From Costa Mesa to Ventura, the Festival promises to be as comprehensive as anything this area has seen since the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival.
The Rubicon, Pacific Resident Theatre, Musical Theatre Guild, The Chance Theater, Edgemar Theatre, Ford Ampitheatre and Celebration Theatre are some of the companies involved. "We've had this percolating for about seven years," says Marcia Seligson, former Producing Director of Reprise Theatre Company, who together with longtime associate Bob Klein are the Executive Producers organizing this mammoth event.
"I can't even say exactly what the timeline was," recalls Klien, "although, when Audra McDonald's first album came out on Nonesuch, there was this whole new generation of writers on it..." Seligson interjects, "Writers we hadn't heard of yet, Ricky Ian Gordon, John Bucchino."
Klein adds, "I remember going down to San Diego to see Floyd Colllins and discovering the work of Adam Guettel. Then, in San Francisco, there was this little show trying out called Wicked. And then, friends at the Disney Channel mentioned this upcoming series about high school musicals. Thing after thing, after thing...and finally one day, I told Marcia, 'There's a renaissance going on in the American musical and it is here. Of course, the New York Times hasn't written anything about it, so it's as if it isn't happening. But it's happening. It's happening here.'"
Enter Michael Kerker, Director of Musical Theatre of ASCAP, and Stephen Schwartz, celebrated composer-lyricist of Wicked, Pippin and Godspell, the primary creative advisors for the Festival, not least because of their ongoing workshop series at Disney where new shows, such as Eric Whitacre and David Narona's Paradise Lost, got their initial hearings. "I used to go to those," Seligson recalls. "They did these readings of new musicals, in New York and Chicago. And obviously, I talked with Michael for years because ASCAP and Reprise did many joint events together. Time and again, Michael would say, 'So much good theatre is going on in L.A.'"
The notion of a musical theatre festival crystallized during the Reprise production of Pippin. Klein relates, "Michael, Stephen, Marcia and I were having lunch one day and we happened to bring up this idea of a festival, specifically of new works, drawn along the same lines as the Olympic Arts Festival. And Stephen listened very politely to our spiel and then said, 'I have to be a part of this.'"
Schwartz is an honorary chair of the Festival along with Jason Alexander, Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim. He finds the Olympic Arts Festival an apt analogy. "Tom Schumacher outdid himself bringing to L.A. so many absolute, world-class artists at the top of their form. That's a gold standard. And the most exciting thing for me is the participation of so many schools and students."
He will appear in a concert showcase of his music with Debbie Gravitte and Scott Coulter at Citrus College (one of three such events in the Festival, the others being a salute to Jerry Herman and concert/master classes by Jason Robert Brown). Additionally, there's My Antonia, a dramatic adaptation of Willa Carther's classic by Schwartz's son Scott, for which the elder Schwartz provides musical underscoring.
"I exercised the dad prerogative," Schwartz notes. "It started out as a project for a director's program Scott was in. At one reading, a representative of the Willa Cather Foundation came and was incredibly enthusiastic. It's essentially a play with incidental music. That's proved challenging, to make it both theatrical and tell it as a dramatic story. Scott's play uses music like a film score, in the tradition of Nicholas Nickleby or the Frank Galati Grapes of Wrath.
Speaking of Grapes of Wrath, the West Coast premiere of music from Rickey Ian Gordon's take on Steinbeck's classic, presented in concert by the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall, promises to be another Festival highlight, as does Norman's Ark by composer-lyricist Glen Roven and librettist Jerome Kass at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre.
Roven first created the piece about a post-Katrina, flood-trapped family revisiting the Biblical account, "a couple of years before Hurricane Katrina," as he recalls. "I saw a picture in the New York Times of these people on a roof, the entire landscape completely wiped out with water, and they're waiting it out. A light bulb went on." Conceived to be a community-based event, as previously done in 2004 in New Jersey, Norman's Ark combines seven professional actors, 105 local students as the animals and elements of the storm and a 75-person gospel choir, under Peter Schneider's direction.
"I believe that an artist's only job is to serve the community," says Roven. "This is conceived to take theatre back to what it was intended for."
The same might describe Return at the Edgemar Theatre, a musical drama about the descendents of the Los Tribe of Solomon and the Queen of Shebe, set amid Operation Moses, the 1984 secret airlift of some 8000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Adapted by Sonia Levitin from her best-selling book, the musical features lyrics by Levitin and Myla Lichtman Fields and an African-themed score by Will Anderson.
Tony-nominated director-choreographer Donald McKayle (Sophisticated Ladies), who helms the production, notes that its account of two intersecting families trekking to the Sudanese border is "a very dire situation yet the story is both uplifting and entertaining. Many people will come not knowing about this ongoing historical conflict. The themes of strength and survival embodied by its young heroine are very relevant. Consider what's going on in Africa right now. And the characters are wonderful, real people. It's meant to inspire."
Meaningful connections are certainly the aim of composer-lyricist John Bucchino. He wrote the score for A Catered Affair which had its premiere at the Old Globe last year prior to opening on Broadway this April. His work appears in the Festival via It's Only LIfe at the Rubicon Theatre in June. Under the direction of Daisy Prince, Life is a plot-less revue completely circumscribed by its songs.
"To my mind, there's a spiritual sort of plot," Bucchino explains, "a progression, but non-linear... no dialogue, no characters, no specific story, a gentle upward spiral. I always want my work to resonate, to have a cumulative emotional impact."
That aspect, as well as the involvement of director Prince, a longtime friend, has drawn comparisons to another Prince-directed song revue, Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World, though Bucchino points out the similarities end there. Among the 23 songs that comprise It's Only Life, several are from Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino, the acclaimed compendium CD featuring such high-profile Bucchino advocates as Judy Collins, Michael Feinstein, Amanda McBroom and Patti Lupone. Others are 20 years old; some never heard before Life.
"Having written in utter obscurity for 25 years, I developed a very specific voice," Bucchino laughingly notes. "I also developed a very big backlog of material. It's a kind of retrospective of a career that never happened. I really do want to encourage people to follow their dreams though, strangely, musical theatre writing has never been my dream.
"I wanted to be Billy Joel or Elton John or Joni Mitchell, the singer-songwriter. But the very thing that makes my work appropriate to theatre," Bucchino adds, "made it less appropriate to the pop world. I'm thrilled about it appearing at the Rubicon. There's such a respect for the work and it's a wonderful venue."
Schwartz observes, "These are golden times for Los Anegles, for Southern California, as a theatre center. Wicked, Jersey Boys, Curtains... all developed in California. The Drowsy Chaperone came to L.A. from Toronto en route to Broadway. A Catered Affair, Cry-Baby... The New York theatre scene is far healthier now than I've ever seen in my lifetime. One reason is the wealth of talent that's coming from the West Coast. I hope the Festival, its emphasis on young people, young artists, can help spur on a new generation and raise consciousness about L.A.'s presence as a theatre town."
Celebration of '50s sci-fi flicks is part of musical festival
by Pat O'Brien, The Press-Enterprise
May 1, 2008
Wacky and way-out, "The Brain From Planet X" is musical-theater homage to the so-bad-they're-good sci-fi movies of the 1950s. A suburban family is forced to save the world from a band of aliens intent on taking over -- all with catchy music and clever lyrics.
For the Chance Theater of Anaheim this production, running Saturday through June 8, is definitely a coup.
The good fortune includes being part of the inaugural Festival of New American Musicals and having "Brain" creator Bruce Kimmel as director of the production. The festival has about 45 events stretching from the Old Globe in San Diego to the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura and ranging in size from the 45-seat Chance to the 2,265-seat Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
"It's very exciting to be part of such a bold festival and also to be working with the creator of the show," said Casey Long, managing director of the Chance. "We were given a selection and we chose this show because it's so much fun and it fits in a small space and it has audience participation. It's just a total blast."
The festival showcases new works. Its creative advisers include "Wicked" composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and Michael Kerker, director of musical theater for ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).
"Stephen Schwartz is probably the most active person in the whole festival. He is the person who from the very beginning said, 'Count me in.' He's been so helpful, and he has his hands on the pulse of what's going on. He runs the series on new musicals for ASCAP," said festival founder Marcia Seligson.
Kimmel, a Grammy-nominated music producer, novelist and screenwriter, said by phone from Los Angeles that it's great to have a West Coast theater festival.
"There are a lot of good writers out here. It's not all happening in New York," Kimmel said.
Creating a Musical
The idea for "Brain" began as a movie script, which Kimmel showed to sometimes writing partner David Wechter. They decided to turn it into a musical, Kimmel said.
"I grew up loving these movies. They weren't campy to me as a kid," Kimmel said. "I think a lot of spoofs don't work because they have no real spine. We try to give people something to care about, not just jokes."
"Brain" has gone through several revisions since being performed in 2006 at a workshop at Los Angeles City College and then being invited to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It continues to evolve.
"I can't say enough about the Chance. They're terrific," Kimmel said. "I was amazed at the quality of what is a nonunion cast."
The role of the Brain was cast by Kimmel when he asked Mark Rothman, a writer on "The Odd Couple," "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley," if he'd do it.
"He's bringing something wholly unique to the Brain. He's really funny," said Jonathan Josephson, a member of the Chance who is dramaturge for the show.
Josephson calls the show "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Urinetown" with a dose of steroids.
"It's so fun and so bold. It isn't afraid of being silly. It isn't afraid of being blatant," he said. "It isn't without a message but does it in a whimsical and clever setting."
As for the music, there are showstoppers. "The Brain Tap" is a takeoff on tap numbers from Hollywood's musical heyday, while Emily Clark as the alien, Yoni, gets down-and-sultry with "I Need an Earthman."
"The lyrics are so smart and the melody is so clean, it's the kind of thing if you are in another room, you stop and listen every time," Josephson said.
Birth of a Festival
The Festival of New American Musicals is the brainchild of Seligson, who founded Reprise Theatre Company, where she produced more than 30 shows in Los Angeles, and Bob Klein, who did marketing for Nickelodeon, Bravo and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
"I'm excited about the whole breadth and width and scope of the festival. And we have been fussy about not having pieces we didn't like," Seligson said by phone. "They are in different stages of development. I'm producing the ASCAP stage reading series. They are wonderful pieces, and they are on the road to becoming big productions."
Part of organizing the festival has been to marry a musical with a theater.
"This is definitely one of the largest artistic, cultural festivals that has happened in Southern California. Geographically, probably the most widespread," she said. "I think there have been a lot of really talented composers around this area for a long time. And one of the reasons they are here -- before this explosion of musicals -- was to do videos and TV and movies. From 'Rent' on, it became clear musicals were in favor and a lot of new stuff was happening."
And much was developed in Southern California, such as "Wicked," "Jersey Boys," "Curtains" and "Cry Baby."
"It's always important to create new work, creating new art is critical," Seligson said. "One of the problems in theater is the graying of the audience, so it's very important so the form doesn't die out to keep creating new audiences."
'The Brain from Planet X'
Where: Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills
When: Saturday through June 8
Information: 714-777-3033, www.chancetheater.com
The Festival of New American Musicals
When: May and June
Where: Numerous venues.
Some highlights: "My Antonia," adapted Willa Cather novel with music by Stephen Schwartz at Rubicon Theatre, Ventura (May 8-June 1). "The Grapes of Wrath," adapted from Steinbeck by Michael Korie with music by Ricky Ian Gordon, Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA (May 18). "Norman's Art," a retelling of Noah's Ark by Jerome Kass and composer Glen Roven, Ford Amphitheatre, LA (May 27-June 8). "Love, Janis," Janis Joplin's life and music, Wilshire Theatre, Beverly Hills (May 29-June 1). "Imagine," an imaginary friend goes on adventure, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa (May 30-June15). "Lumping in Fargo," a Shakespearean rock opera, UC Irvine (June 5-7).
The Brain From Planet X
by James Scarborough, What The Butler Saw
May 5, 2008
I used to wonder whether intergalactic visitors would have libidos and the ability to make us laugh for hours on end.
And now, having seen David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel's exquisite retro-futuristic sci-fi musical The Brain From Planet X, directed by Kimmel for The Chance Theater, I know.
They do and they can!
This show makes the solar system just a little bit smaller. We find that our visitors are just as goofy and hapless as the rest of us. They may think big, with grand plans to enthrall the Earth, but they prove that even aliens subscribe to Murphy's Law: if things can go wrong, they will.
It's 1958. Housewife Joyce (Allison Appleby), Engineer/Inventor husband Fred (Bob Simpson) and daughter Donna (Shannon Cudd), the composite of every do-good television family from the golden age of television, live that non-existent life invented by advertising executives and insurance actuaries.
Soon, though, they must fend off the attack of a trio of aliens: The Brain (Mark Rothman), Yoni (Emily Clark), and Zubrick (Daniel Berlin). They are aided, if that's the right word, by - nice names! - careerist General Mills (Warren Draper) and factotum Private Parts (Dan Flapper).
A funnier script and premise you'll never see. The songs rock, especially Yoni's "I Need An Earthman" and "The Plan," sung by The Brain, Yoni, and Zubrick, and the dancing, which also doubles as mass hysteria, is out of this world. The story takes place in the San Fernando Valley. Nice locale. Frank Zappa would have said that the invasion indeed did take place and the results continue to the present day, but that's another story.
The production brims with the pitter-patter of puns, double entendres, and Boomer references (Rice-A-Roni, fake trips to the library so to watch submarine races...the only thing missing was Fred's pocket protector and a slide rule). The show puts the complex back into military industrial.
You won't find a better ensemble performance. Michael Irish's Narrator notched up the hysteria like Joel Gray in Cabaret. Appleby's Joyce put the tonic in catatonic. Clark's Yoni begins with a Marge Simpson hairdo. Then she marvels at the terrestrial technology behind and the human statuary encased within zippers on men's trousers. I kept expecting Rothman's The Brain who to pull out a cigar and start doing a Sands Hotel in Vegas stand-up routine.
Masako Tobaru's set projections, and deb Millison's costumes made me wonder if I was on the Set of "The Donna Reed Show" or "Lost in Space".
See this for the sheer visual lunacy, the non-stop laughs, and the buffet line of preposterous situations. See it because it's live (and kicking), analog not digital. See it because you won't believe how something so clever could come from the simple convocation of words on paper and people on stage.
Performances are 8PM, Friday & Saturday, 2PM, Saturday & Sunday. The show runs until June 8. Tickets are $27-30. The Theater is located at 5552 E. La Palma Avenue, Anaheim Hills. For more information call (714) 777-3033 or visit www.chancetheater.com.
Singing Visitors from Outer Space Deliver Treasures
by Stan Jenson, Blade Magazine
May 8, 2008
Anaheim's Chance Theater, celebrating its tenth season, was recently voted the #2 Live Theater Group in OC by the readers of The Register (SCR topped the list). They are probably the county's top interpreter of serious works like Sondheim musicals and such, but their current production, The Brain From Planet X, is proof that when silly material is presented by an excellent company, the results can be spectacular.
The Brain from Planet X, with music, lyrics and direction by Bruce Kimmel, is a send-up of those bad sci-fi movies of the 50's, much in the vein of The Rocky Horror Show. A slapdash trio of aliens from Planet X visits Planet Earth with the intention of world domination. Quite naturally, they decide to start with the San Fernando Valley. Little do they anticipate the wily resistance of local inventor Fred Bunson, his doting wife Joyce, and their lovely daughter Donna. Various scenes are lovingly lifted from such cinematic giants as "Invaders From Mars," "The Creeping Terror," and "Plan Nine from Outer Space." We encounter such obligatory characters as the military leader General Mills and his adjunct, Private Parts; Joyce's dying-but-clever octogenarian father, Professor Leder; and Donna's amorous beatnik boyfriend Rod. 1958 was never this much fun!
In the hands of a lesser company, this show could be tedious, but at The Chance, it sparkles. Allison Appleby and Bob Simpson excel as the uber-ordinary Valley couple, Fred and Joyce. She lovingly welcomes him home from work each evening with a cold beer and a Donna Reed smile - that is, until the Behavior Modification Ray of the aliens turns her into an emotionless automation. The military wants to bomb the sinister alien craft, but cannot pierce its shield without the secret invention of Fred and Professor Leder. You've heard all these lines before, but in this combination, they're hilarious.
The aliens themselves include Yoni (Emily Clark), a man-hungry female, and Zubrick (Daniel Berlin), a man-hungry male. They are led by the deadpan Brain (Mark Rothman). Picture Ben Stein with his brain on the outside of his head doing Vaudevillian soft shoe in a floor-length glittering cape. It's that sort of a show. Also noteworthy are Michael Irish as the narrator (who doubles as the geriatric Professor Leder) and Shannon Cudd as the libidinous daughter.
The 17 songs are bright and brief, accompanied by an offstage trio capably led by Bill Strongin. The voices are uniformly excellent, and the radio microphones make every syllable audible without actually sounding amplified. Adam Cates' choreography is lively, appropriate, and damned funny. At the very mention of a brain tap, the entire cast dons tap shoes and does a production number. Masako Tobaru's extensive use of projections allows her set design to rapidly move from location to location.
In short, The Brain From Planet X is a delight from beginning to end, fast moving and constantly fun. Writer/director Bruce Kimmel has lovingly mined every cliché for maximum laughs, and keeps his excellent company moving at locomotive speed. See it - or risk annihilation from the planet!
"The Brain From Planet X" continues at The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave, Anaheim Hills, 92807, through June 8. Tickets are $27 - $30, and available at www.chancetheater.com, or by phone at (714) 777-3033.
The Brain From Planet X
by Obed Medina, EDGE Los Angeles
May 9, 2008
The place: San Fernando Valley. The time: 1958. The Bunson family shares a neighborhood with the likes of the Cleavers, the Gillis, but not the Bradys, they haven't moved in yet. Their unsuspecting lives are about to change when an evil oversized brain from Planet X decides to target earth for conquest. With his two assistants, he sets out to destroy humanity by disintegrating the very ideal of the "nuclear family." Prepare yourself for ultimate annihilation, 1950's style.
Straight out of the B-movie genre of that same time period, The Brain from Planet X definitely pays tribute to those movies in a way that is refreshing, witty, smart, and funny. It also closely follows the campy nature of these films while doing so in a self depreciating manner that, I feel, lends this musical (yes, it's a musical!) its charm. Bruce Kimmel's book and lyrics (he's also the director of the show for this production) manages to lampoon much of the Eisenhower Era by referencing women's movements, gender roles, sexuality, and war without getting too political.
To pull off something as zany as "The Brain From Planet X," you would need finely tuned cast to pull it off, and this cast does. Allison Appleby and Bob Simpson are perfectly matched as Joyce and Fred Bunson. Appleby's comedic turn comes when she finds liberation (weirdly enough) after her body is taken hostage by the will-bending ray guns wielded by Zubrick (Daniel Berlin) and Yoni (Emily Clark). These two alien assistants play off each other like a comedy duo while each struggles with new emotions that overcome their own bodies here on earth. Zurick embraces his sexuality while Yoni uses hers to better understand the male species.
The rest of the cast does well in sustaining the wacky nature of the show. Shannon Cudd, as the Bunson's slutty teenage daughter, Donna, is funny enough as she goes from late night lip sucking sessions with his disinterested would-be beatnik boyfriend Rod (Dimas Diaz) to unexpected savior to her family. And finally, there is the Brain itself. Mark Rothman is hilarious in a subtle way that reminded me of Mel Brooks. The humor he brings is so casual that it had a stand up comedy routine to it that enhanced the show. His timing is perfect and it should be. His past experience as one of the youngest television writers for The Odd Couple, Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, has prepared him for world for the ultimate this ultimate role.
The Chance Theatre is a very tight and intimate space and they use it to full advantage. Kudos to the director, Bruce Kimmel and set designer Masako Tobaru for their inventive use of space, minimal sets, and projections to create an intergalactic struggle of epic proportions.
The Brain from Planet X runs through June 8 at The Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, CA 92807. For schedule, ticket prices and more information visit The Chance Theater's website.
'Brain' wears many hats
by Darryl H. Miller, Los Angeles Times
May 9, 2008
Science doesn't get much more fictionalized than in the silly sci-fi musical "The Brain From Planet X."
A mutation of such movies as "The Brain From Planet Arous" and "Plan Nine From Outer Space," the show spins a comic tale of space aliens who choose the 1950s San Fernando Valley as the launching point for their takeover of Earth. Introduced at Los Angeles City College in 2006, the show returns, with some interim tweaking, at the Chance Theater, as an early event in the two-month Festival of New American Musicals.
Much of the fun of David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel's show, as staged by Kimmel, is its low-tech re-creation of low-tech B movies. Some gags are slap-on-the-forehead obvious, such as the alien spacecraft constructed of taped-together pie tins hanging from a stick. Others are guffaw-inducingly unexpected.
Man-of-many-faces Michael Irish provides Rod Serling-like setup; Mark Rothman, outfitted with a bouffant-size brain, is a Mel Brooks of a space villain who's saddled with squabbling henchmen Emily Clark (in intergalactic glamazon mode) and Daniel Berlin (how does he sustain that helium voice?). Allison Appleby and Bob Simpson, as unsuspecting Valley householders, imitate such TV moms and pops as the Stones and the Andersons. The cast of 15 is supported by a keyboard-percussion-reeds trio.
The music and lyrics, mostly by Kimmel, are pastiches, at their cleverest when they nod toward shows you'd little suspect ("42nd Street"? "Company," for goodness sake?). Overall, there's so much copying going on that audiences can make a virtual trivia game out of identifying the sources.
One could call the show derivative, meaning it as a put-down, but "The Brain" would just take it as a compliment.
'The Brain From Planet X' spoofs '50s sci-fi in Anaheim Hills
The musical's O.C. premiere uses short, kicky scenes and songs to parody the genre.
by Eric Marchese, Orange County Register
May 11, 2008
Genre spoofs are tricky animals, forcing writers onto a tightrope with diehards on one side and those unfamiliar with the turf on the other.
It's therefore good to report that the 2006 musical "The Brain from Planet X" scores high marks from nearly every perspective. The show's creators, David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel, knew exactly what kind of wacky note they wanted to strike, then consistently made every facet of the show - its characters, dialogue, melodies, song lyrics, visuals and overall tone - strike that note.
In case you hadn't guessed, "Planet X" is a sci-fi spoof - or, more accurately, a parody of such '50s classics as "Invaders from Mars" and the spectacularly awful, champion golden turkey "Plan Nine from Outer Space."
Not only is the Chance Theater's kicky staging the show's Orange County premiere; the production is also part of this year's Festival of New American Musicals, one of only two full-fledged stagings in Orange County (the other is at South Coast Repertory). The fact that the Chance was able to snag Kimmel as director is simply icing on the cake.
Kimmel's opening weekend staging showed rough spots in pacing that presumably will be ironed out early in the run. He wrote the majority of the music and lyrics and co-wrote the libretto with Wechter, who also co-wrote two of the songs. Wisely, the duo keep both songs and scenes brief and punchy.
"Planet X" accurately spoofs an array of '50s sci-fi flicks. More critically, it also parodies the social milieu of the era itself. The resulting show is campy, cornball fun, with loads of pop culture references sprinkled into a story of a stereotypical 1950s nuclear family and their neighbors' encounter with outer space aliens.
The play's nuclear family are the Bunsens, headed by Fred (Bob Simpson), who works at the local defense plant and, at home, cheerfully patronizes his bubbly wife Joyce (Allison Appleby) and teen daughter Donna (Shannon Cudd).
Of course, it's no coincidence that they live in the San Fernando Valley and that the year is 1958, the same place and time as "Plan Nine from Outer Space." As in that film, a small crew from a distant galaxy are determined to conquer Earth, starting with the Valley.
The emotionless crew consists of Yoni (Emily Clark), who sports a tall, blue Marge Simpson 'do, and Zubrick (Daniel Berlin), a pudgy, finicky wimp who sneers that earthlings are nothing but "stupid." Their blueprint for conquest? "Plan Ten."
Their leader, The Brain (Mark Rothman), has a head that's literally a huge cerebrum - but with his huge, rounded spectacles, gaping stare, Yiddish speech rhythms and constant kvetching, he's more of an intergalactic Catskills standup comic.
In some scenes, Kimmel and Wechter score the trifecta, spoofing sci-films, the 1950s and the 2000s. To wit: A high-ranking military official repeatedly mispronounces the word nuclear as "nuke-you-ler." Fred rhapsodizes that the world 50 years hence, in 2008, will be free of crime, war, famine and disease and that "the air will be clean and gasoline will be free!" One character even quips, "Next you'll be telling me that women and Negroes are running for president!"
"The Brain from Planet X" is also a glorious salute to the great American musical, with the same satiric air and sexy style as "The Producers" and the same nostalgic feel as "Little Shop of Horrors," another great musical based on a schlocky '50s sci-fi flick. The show taps a broad palette of musical styles, including soft rock; 1950s jazz; patter songs; striptease music; vaudeville revue and even a socko, Broadway-style tap dance number replete with oompa-loompa-like aliens.
As in many '50s sci-fi films, human emotion, considered crude, primitive instinct by the aliens, wins out, and the big Finale Ultimo is joyous and cornily patriotic.
Simpson and Appleby tap an SNL vein, with Fred a Bill Murray sort and Joyce akin to a Laraine Newman persona. Clark's slinky, steamingly sexy vamp and Rothman's Yiddish-theater delivery are the most consistently funny, but every cast member gets his or her share of laughs. Michael Irish is hyper-serious - and just plain hyper - as the kind of narrator frequently tapped by Ed Wood ostensibly to legitimize a bizarre tale ("what you're about to see is shockingly realistic!"), but actually only helping mock it.
The offstage combo of Bill Strongin (piano), Lonn Hayes (percussion) and Ross Craton (reeds) are all the show's score needs to score. Though Masako Tobaru's set design and her and Kimmel's deliberately cheeseball special effects are just right, the sound scheme (Dave Mickey and Mitchell Kohen), lighting (KC Wilkerson) and choreography (Adam Cates) cannot be overlooked.
A New Brain
by Les Spindle, Theater Mania
May 12, 2008
Los Angeles is abuzz with anticipation of the first annual Festival of New American Musicals, featuring world premiere productions, staged readings, workshops, concerts and cabarets, master classes, high school and college shows, and myriad other events, opening in May and June throughout L.A. and surrounding areas. Highlights include Bruce Kimmel's zany sci-fi tuner The Brain From Planet X (Anaheim's Chance Theater, May 1-June 8), and My Antonia (Ventura's Rubicon Theatre, May 8-June 1), writer-director Scott Schwartz' adaptation of Willa Cather's Pulitzer-winning novel, set on the Nebraska Plains of the 1880s, with music by Scott's famous father Stephen Schwartz. ...
The Brain From Planet X
by Eric Marchese, Back Stage West
May 14, 2008
Using the medium of musical theatre to spoof science-fiction films requires a solid understanding of both genres, skill with the musical theatre form, and a thorough knowledge of numerous great and not-so-great sci-fi flicks. Bringing a light touch to all these abilities is also not asking too much. Although it's true that many of the scenes from David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel's 2006 musical come off like skits from SNL, with the same sort of hit-and-miss approach, their musical pretty much hits the mark. Its sensibility is pleasantly goofy and tongue-in-cheek, and its sense of humor is self-deprecating, ridiculing not only 1950s sci-fi flicks great and small but the musical theatre genre as well. Its characters know they're in a show and don't mind letting us in on the joke.
Kimmel and Wechter set their story in the same time and place as Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space: the San Fernando Valley, circa 1958. The aliens from Planet X who invade the Valley are as pompous -- and their plans for conquest as idiotic -- as Wood's, right down to their pajamalike jumpsuits and the labeling of us earthlings as "stupid." The playwrights also borrow from Wood the use of a narrator (Michael Irish), whose purpose is to intone ominously about the impending invasion. The scenes and songs are brief, keeping things moving. In directing the Orange County premiere, Kimmel drops two of the 17 songs to maintain a tight running time.
Unfortunately, during opening weekend, the cast and crew hadn't yet found the ideal rhythm, an issue that will no doubt be resolved as the run progresses. The staging scores everywhere else, beginning with a principal cast of 10 and an ensemble of five who get the campy style and deliberately corny jokes and have the needed song-and-dance skills. With his oversized cerebrum; thick, rounded spectacles; and Yiddish accent and delivery, Mark Rothman's The Brain is an intergalactic Catskills standup comic. Emily Clark's sexpot from outer space is a hoot, as are musical numbers best described as the cross-breeding of Little Shop of Horrors and The Producers.
Presented by and at the Chance Theater,
5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.
Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.
May 3-Jun. 8.
The Brain From Planet X
by Steven Stanley, StageSceneLA.com
May 18, 2008
If you've ever groaned through a 1950s Grade Z Hollywood sci fi flick, you are sure to enjoy Bruce Kimmel's musical comedy spoof The Brain From Planet X.
Brain's world premiere was a week-long production in December 2006 at Kimmel's alma mater, the LACC Theatre Academy, in a pro/am staging which featured four Equity guest artists leading an otherwise student cast. Having thoroughly enjoyed that production (including being featured as the audience participation "guest star" in the "Brain Tap" number), I've been eagerly awaiting its first long run, the Orange County premiere at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
The show is as fresh and funny and tuneful as ever. It's also more than a bit racy and irreverent, which may shock more conservative OC residents.
Kimmel has cast many of my favorite Chance Theater Resident Company Members in lead roles, beginning with the stupendous Michael Irish as the Narrator, who cautions the audience that what they are about to see is absolutely true and based on sworn testimony! Irish chews the scenery as if he were a member of Ed Wood's stable of stars (remember "Plan 9 From Outer Space"?) with appropriately over the top gestures and an eyebrow which seems to rise at least an inch above the others.
We are soon introduced to Joyce and Fred (Allison Appleby and award-winning Bob Simpson*, reunited after the recent and much raved about Assassins). In "Here On Earth," the quintessential 1950s suburban couple sing of their perfect life "except for the communists and the threat of nuclear annihilation." Teenage daughter Donna (Shannon Cudd) is off to the library to do research on her paper on bomb shelter decorating ideas. Fred thinks that 7:30 is a bit too late for a good girl to go out, until Donna points out that tomorrow IS the weekend.
Suddenly, there is an explosion of sound and bright red light! "It was horrible," cries [Fred]. "It sounded like vomiting. Like the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir vomiting at the same time!"
Life goes on, despite alien invasion, and Donna heads off for her date with beatnik boyfriend Rod (Dimas Diaz*). Rod has turned from juvenile delinquency to Allen Ginsberg, but Donna loves him because he's "bad, bad, bad" and he loves her because she's "like a cat on a hot tin roof." Song cue: "Good Girl/Bad Girl."
Meanwhile, General Mills (America's only living 1-Star General) is meeting with the chiefs of staff, Colonel Sanders, Marshall Fields, and Major Surgery, accompanied by his assistant Private Partz. (Yes, it's corny, but don't you love it?) The General is concerned with strange occurrences in the San Fernando Valley, which happens to be exactly where Joyce and Fred make their happy home.
The strange occurrence is the arrival of outer space aliens Zubrick and Yoni (Daniel Berlin and Emily Clark*, John Hinckley and Squeaky Fromme of Assassins, together again and this time out not to assassinate but to mind-control ALL Americans). Berlin's Zubrick is a young John Candy in bright blue spandex with a helium voice and Clark's Yoni a shapely vixen with a foot-high blue beehive she surely copied from Marge Simpson. The two are subjects of the most fearsome outer space leader of all, The Brain From Planet X, who looks and sounds like a Catskill comic a la Milton Berle, Myron Cohen, or Shecky Greene. The Brain announces that they will be following not Plan 9 ("that's been done before") but an even more dastardly one, PLAN 10! (from outer space of course). Song cue: "The Plan."
Fred is an amateur inventor (One of his latest inventions prepares teenagers' lungs for "adult smoking") and he sings about "The World Of Tomorrow" where "streets are clean and gas is free." (That lyric gets a big laugh.) General Mills arrives and asks Fred to organize a search party to hunt out the aliens who've attacked Earth. Meanwhile, Zubrick keeps getting lost himself, prompting Yoni to complain, "You wouldn't know the Earth from Uranus!"
Things start getting serious when our alien invaders zap Joyce with their "mind bender" gun, causing her eyes to stare blankly ahead and robbing her of any romantic urges. Refusing Fred even a hello kiss, she informs him "I'm afraid you have to get used to the new me because she's not going away any time soon," and if that weren't enough, tells him this again in song ("Things Are Going To Be Changing Around Here").
"There Are Saucers In The Sky" sings the ensemble as one by one, the Earthlings' wills are bent and the audience is sent out to intermission.
Act 2 features the tap dancing (and brain tapping) "Brain Tap," a newly sexified Yoni's "I Need An Earthling," the Brain's very own "The Brain Song," Joyce's declaration of "Independence Day," and Zubrick's "All About Men," the gayest song since Mel Brooks wrote the "throw out your hands, stick out your tush" number for "Blazing Saddles", and featuring an enormous beach ball and two shirtless hunks in gold lamé swim trunks.
After all this, you may wonder, in the words of the narrator, if you dare be an eyewitness to such unspeakable TERROR!
The answer is "Of course!" It's musical theater!
Bruce Kimmel not [only] wrote music and lyrics, he co-wrote the book (with David Wechter) and directed both the LACC original and the Chance's OC premiere. Though the Equity leads in the original were vocally stronger than their Chance counterparts, that is a minor quibble in an all around fantastic cast. Appleby and Simpson are a delight as Brain's answer to Ward and June Cleaver (or Ozzie and Harriet), and bubbly Cudd and too-cool Diaz get an A+ on their high school make-out exam. Mark Rothman moves from a successful writing career, which includes numerous episodes of "The Odd Couple", "Happy Days", and "Laverne and Shirley", to become a very funny Borscht Belt Brain. Best and funniest of all are Berlin and Clark as our alien invaders. Who would have thought those two Assassins could be such outrageous visitors from another planet? The talented cast is completed by Warren Draper* (a gravelly voiced General Mills), Dan Flapper (Private Partz), Cody Andersen, Jamie Lee Baker, Marlana Filannino, Patrick Robert Kelly, and Jenna Romano.
Musical director Bill Strongin leads a spirited 3 piece band: Strongin on piano, Lonn Hayes on percussion, and Ross Craton on reed. Adam Cates' inventive choreography uses 1950s sci-fi flicks as its inspiration. Masako Tobaru's set design is simple in the extreme, but it does use some very funny Fisher-Price toys as scientific instruments, and there are a number of clever sliding-door gags. Tobaru's projections change the set from a suburban home to a space ship to other assorted locations; if only they didn't mostly disappear when the lights go up. Lighting is by KC Wilkerson and sound design by Dave Mickey and Mitchell Kohen. deb (not a typo) Millison's costumes range from 1950s casual to outer space outrageous.
Though not at the spoof level of say, Mel Brooks' The Producers, The Brain From Planet X remains a thoroughly entertaining two and a quarter of fun and music. Audience members with some experience seeing the schlock movies it's inspired by will have their enjoyment enhanced, but even those who pop in unprepared are likely to have a grand old sci-fi time!
*Chance Resident Company Member
Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave. Anaheim Hills. Through June 8. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: (714) 777-3033 or www.chancetheater.com
The Brain From Planet X
by Joyce Rosenthal, Fullerton Observer
May 19, 2008
The year is 1958; the location the San Fernando Valley. A wild-eyed, hyperactive Narrator appears to warn us of the strange and terrible things we are about to see.
However, next we are in the backyard of Fred and Joyce, an idyllic American couple. Fred, an engineer and inventor, is home from work. Joyce, the perfect housewife, will grill steaks for dinner after bringing Fred a beer. Perky daughter Donna is off to the library to catch up on homework. Life couldn't be better.
But wait--what's that awful sound? Are those objects in the sky flying saucers? This was what the Narrator meant! It's an invasion by the Brain from Planet X who comes to conquer Earth with help from his two assistants, Zubrick (male) and Yoni (female). People on Planet X are all intellect with no emotion. They view humans as all emotion with no intellect. The Brain plans on zapping humans with his "will bender" which will make them do his bidding. Life on Earth may never be the same!
The Brain from Planet X, a spoof of bad 50's science fiction movies, is cheesy but clever, hokey but hilarious and is a thoroughly delightful musical. David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel wrote the book and Kimmel also wrote the music and lyrics and directed the show; this is only the third time this play has been performed and we are fortunate indeed that it came to Chance Theater.
As the play proceeds, more and more humans are zapped causing them to walk around with vacant smiles on their faces. The military is called in with one-star General Mills in charge, ably assisted by Private Parts. Yoni becomes more and more emotional and exhibits an interest in human males. Zubrick resists longer than her but eventually he too succumbs to emotion-and exhibits an interest in human males.
Daughter Donna and boyfriend Rod (she did not go to the library to do homework) and Professor Leder, her grandfather, join forces with the military and ultimately everyone comes together in Fred's backyard. ...
The costumes (by deb Millison) are perfect for a 1950's B science fiction movie. Lighting Design by KC Wilkerson and Sound Design by Dave Mickey and Mitchell Kohen are great. The cast is uniformly talented and delivers a dynamite show. Especially outstanding are Michael Irish (Narrator, Professor Leder), Bob Simpson (Fred), Allison Appleby (Joyce), and Emily Clark (Yoni). Don't miss it.