Monday, November 23, 2015

Bite Me (a little)—Post5 Theatre—SE Portland

A Night to (Dis)member (or, Thirsting for Love)

This campy musical satire on Vampires is written and produced by Arlie Conner and he developed the music with Bill Larimer.  It is directed by Sam Dinkowitz with musical direction by Matt Insley and choreography by Sydney Weir.  It is playing at Post5’s space in the Sellwood area, 1666 SE Lambert St., through December 12th.

Eat your heart out, Dracula, as this show sucks like you never did!  There have been many interpretations of the vampire legend, some about Dracula and his minions, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee being the most recognizable names.  But even Jack Palance, Gary Oldman, Frank Langella and even George Hamilton have played the infamous Count.  Now there are even TV series’ “honoring” the Undead.  And so the time is ripe for a musical.

This has much in common with Rocky Horror…, Little Shop of Horrors, Interview with a Vampire, Love at First Bite and, as my friend mentioned, Cabaret which, in this incarnation, it may have most in common with, as Cabaret was about the underbelly of German Society before WWII and this is about the underground of a bloodsucking horde.

As the story begins, we have a 1940, suave, film noir-type detective, Joe (Jim Vadala), on the trail of a serial killer who is mutilating bodies.  He is also the narrator of the piece.  His partner in trying to solve these grisly crimes is a morgue assistant, also an object of his desires, the lovely, Jenny (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit).  The motive is unclear but the trail seems to lead to a place called The Palace of Fun.

The Palace is run by the creepy, Dr. Hurt (Nathan Dunkin), a vampire of the first magnitude.  No longer the sometimes charming monster of films, he is outright devilish, disgusting, decadent, deceitful, and downright, dirty-minded.  He also has a delicious staff, headed by the feisty, femme-fatale, Georgie (Tyler Buswell), his manager, and his headline singer for the Club, the ravishing, ravenous, Raven (Sydney Weir).  And let us not forget those lascivious, leeches, the Twin Tina’s (Corinne Gaucher and Olivia Weiss).

But, like all good horror stories, we need an innocent to wander into this wily web and so enter the naïve, Ben (Brian Burger), just looking for a place to hold his high-school reunion.  Needless to say, he gets his heart’s desire and from there the pun…er, fun…begins.  I really can’t tell you too much more, as I would be a spoiler, but take it from me, not everything is at it appears.  The murders do get solved, which the detective has a hand in.  And love does have a way of seeping through the vein of the story.

But the success of this production is in the way it’s presented.  Obviously the tale does have its tongue securely cemented in its cheek, as it is, in part, an audience participation event with asides to the viewers, a campy take-off on vampire stories, some terrific rock music and songs, and an homage to film noir and old horror legends.  Author, Conner (and Larimer) and director, Dinkowitz, have managed to pull all these amazing elements together for quite a unique evening of entertainment.

And the cast and band (Insley, Gary Lapado, Brian Link and Matt Ramsdell) are all first rate.  In a small space like this, you’d expect the band to overpower the singers but this does not happen, kudos to some terrific voices and a super sound system.  And the few dances numbers (Weir) add flavor to the merry mischief.  Strangely, there was no real blood-letting during the show which I think was a wise choice, as it might have weakened the production.
Dunkin, who is always good, is amazing as Hurt.  His song and dance toward the end is a show-stopper.  He doesn’t try to copy anybody and so his interpretation is completely his own and it is one of his best portrayals!  Burger as the novice is a real treat.  He is the epitome of the innocent getting caught up in things beyond his control and understanding.  And he has a super voice to match.  Buswell as the bitchy drag queen is perfect.  He is a show all his own.  Weir is spot on as the sultry siren and has a voice that matches the 40’s Noir-style at the time.

No longer the virginal Marian (Music Man) or Poppins (Mary Poppins), Kelly-Pettit has grown up in the roles she plays and the transformation suits her.  Her voice is operatic and lends well to this role.  Vadala is a trooper and the roles he has played on the stage are varied.  His Spade send-up is a match for a Bogart or Raft and he plays it with appropriately somber glee.  And Gaucher and Weiss, as the twins, have amazing voices and are creepy and sexy at the same time.

I’m very impressed with Conner’s show and he should be proud of what he has created and the talent he has assembled to present it.  Bravo!  One thing I find annoying, though, and it’s present in the last two musicals I’ve seen recently, is that there is no page in the program for the songs and the talent that sing them.  I believe it’s disrespectful not to credit these areas.  Just my opinion, of course.

I highly recommend this production.  But, be warned, it is very adult in language and situations.