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We're All Dead

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

In case shows like Avenue Q and Urinetown haven't completely sated your appetite for jokey, parodic musicals, you now have a new option: We're All Dead, playing Off-Off-Broadway (almost certainly where it's best served) at Chashama, though be forewarned that ear protection and headache medication may be required.

Probably the best thing about We're All Dead is that its creators - Francis Heaney (book, lyrics, music, and music direction) and James Evans (book, lyrics, and direction) - know the show's limitations and work entirely within them. They have no lofty, important goals for We're All Dead - they want to have a good time with the show, and they obviously hope the audience will go along for the ride. That kind of honesty is highly admirable, and while it's nice that they know what they have, what they don't, and how much an audience should be expected to put up with it, the show - though never lacking creativity - ends up being less entertaining than its creators seem to think it is.

Probably the best (worst?) example is the first of the show's three acts, "Oedipus Rocks," Sophocles's classic tragedy filtered through 1970s rock musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Two Gentlemen of Verona. A few parts register as particularly clever: "The Traditional Greek Drinking Song" includes the lyric "There's nothing better except for girls and teenage boys"; the Sphinx (Michelle Bialeck) turns her vexing riddle into a whining plaint against men; and the final solo Oedipus (Matt Walton) sings is titled "I Don't Want to See How This All Works Out." But running at almost 50 minutes, and making the most of Ben Dean's terrible sound design (unbearably loud and garbling nearly every lyric - should a show in a theater this size really require headphone-style mics?), "Oedipus Rocks" wears more than it entertains.

Brevity proves the far wiser choice with the evening's second show, "A Giant Bug's Life," a shockingly low-key and almost (gulp) sincere adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. This one is particularly episodic, as Gregor Samsa (Jason St. Sauver), wakes to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach and is rejected, in turn, by his father, girlfriend (with the evening's best lyric, sung to Gregor: "It's not you, it's me"), mother, and eventually the whole of society. The songs are distinctive primarily because every one works the words "Giant Bug" into the title, though Gregor's big song, "Ballad of the Giant Bug," is surprisingly sweet.

The third show, "Zany Danes," is based on - do I really need to say it? - Shakespeare's Hamlet, or at least the Cliff's Notes version of it. There's even less subtlety here than in the other pieces, and attempts to follow the laughably watered down story of the Danish prince (Jedidiah Cohen) and his search for meaning and revenge will likely result in frustration. But it has the most honest fun of any of the pieces and songs like "Oh, Oh, Ophelia," "Digging Up Old Friends," and "We're All Dead," make the slightly long 30-minute running time pass pretty painlessly.

Evans's direction for We're All Dead is generally decent and funny enough, with appropriately cheesy choreography (by Amiti Perry) and good costumes by Meganne George (whose primary interpretation seems to be that all tragic heroes must wear leather pants). Elizabeth Gaines's lights, however, seemed to be behaving erratically at the performance I attended, and Charlie Calvert's set, with attractive transparent pillars for "Oedipus Rocks" and a graveyard for "Zany Danes," feels a bit much for such a small space. (That the scene-change intermission after "Oedipus Rocks" lasted longer than "A Giant Bug's Life" should speak volumes.) The evening's cast is generally fine, if seldom particularly memorable, though a few chorus members' off-key solo lines can be somewhat distracting.

We're All Dead has enough good ideas to make one regret that the straightforward, enjoyable, and non-deafening musical comedy spoof it wants to be (and most likely can be) would be allowed to come to the surface. For now, it seems to be just overproduced enough to keep that promise safely tucked away - behind the speakers, perhaps?

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Theater for a Big Country
We're All Dead
Through December 14
Running Time: 2 hours, with two ten-minute intermissions
Chashama Mainstage, 135 West 42nd Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
Schedule and Tickets: 212.868.4444