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Pest Control

Also see Sharon's review of Lady

Pest Control
Karesa McElheny, Darren Ritchie and Alex Robert Holmes
Pest Control, the musical having its world premiere at the NoHo Arts Center, takes place in a comic book world (although it claims to be New York in 1979). It's the sort of place where exterminators walk around with Ghostbusters-style packs on their backs, and attack roaches with laser guns adorned with flashing lights. It's the sort of place where you can hire an assassin with a phone call ("Hello. 'Til Death Do Us Part"). It's the sort of place where sisters and brothers always wear clothes that complement each other (and your henchmen are always color coordinated). It's the sort of place where pest control technicians can be mistaken for assassins, based on a misunderstanding about what it means to be "in the extermination business."

It's also a place that is aware that it is a musical, and doesn't take itself too seriously - which is a pretty good idea when your protagonist is a bug-killer mistaken for a human-killer who keeps up the façade because he doesn't want to lose the attention of the pretty CIA operative who has been assigned to tail him. There are lots of asides to the audience, including a few that directly reference the fact that the characters are in a play, and a brief Oklahoma! parody that turns out to be the smartest lyric in the show.

As long as Pest Control keeps on its pace, its fully committed cast pulls it off. It's quirky, silly and oddly engaging. Take "It Must Be A Pheromone" thing, sung when Bob the exterminator (Darren Ritchie) falls in love-at-first-smell with Parker the CIA agent (Beth Malone). Bob and Parker happen to fall for each other in the middle of a crowded room, but in classic musical theatre style, nobody else notices. Ritchie and Malone perform the number with everyone else frozen in place, eventually pushing people aside in order to better act on their unquenchable lust. The concept of the song mocks the traditional love-at-first-sight number, and the staging of the number (courtesy James J. Mellon) is adorable and entertaining.

But things go badly awry after the intermission, as the show starts taking itself way too seriously. Amusing songs with bright choreography give way to a ballad-heavy act in which characters just stand and sing, giving the audience time to notice that the music (by Vladimir Shainskiy) is unmemorable, and the lyrics (by Scott DeTurk) are pedestrian at best. A subplot in which two assassins break into Bob's home and attempt to torture him to death is massively misguided. (Although it isn't entirely clear where the evil assassin is placing those electrodes, they appear to be below the waist.) And the torture scene is accompanied by some folks in life-sized disco-style bug suits (who haven't been seen since the dreamscape of an opening number) singing aggressively about being everywhere, "even in your underwear." It is nonsensical, wholly unnecessary to the plot of the show, and serves only to stop dead the light humor of the musical.

The running order of the show, seen one week after opening, varied in several respects from the songs as listed in the program, suggesting that the show's creators are still working on Pest Control, and it's clear that more work needs to be done. The second act includes the disclosure of a former romance between two characters we hadn't known even knew each other - all of a sudden, we're supposed to care about them getting back together. Bob is not just mistaken for an ordinary assassin, but a legendary killer who vanished without a trace (nicknamed, with an apparent lack of imagination, "the Vanished Killer"), and the show misses out on an opportunity to ultimately (and for laughs) put a cap on the show identifying some other character as the actual Vanished Killer. The actual ending of the show, while regaining the show's energetic spirit with a hip-hop number, makes absolutely no sense in the context of scenes that came immediately before.

There are other problems. Bob is hired to kill a Latin American dictator - the dictator's lieutenant convinces the CIA that he would do a better job running the country, as he'd exchange the country's drug economy for growing coffee ... and opening a chain of coffee shops on every street corner in America. The lieutenant himself is one of numerous minor characters overplayed for laughs - in this case, he's complete with gold chains, polyester, and a moustache that falls off his face so much that he's chewing it (in addition to the scenery); the speech impediment John Allsopp throws in is almost overkill. He has a song in which he discusses his plans to open the coffee shops, except he doesn't know what to name them. The concept here is that he wants to name it something celestial plus some word for cash (e.g., "Moon Gold") - it's a clear attempt to reference Starbucks, although the lyrics' oversight of the literary origins of "Starbucks" comes off as simply ignorant. And when we ultimately meet the dictator himself, he is quite obviously played by a woman in drag (Joanna Glushak, who is much better as the head of the assassin company), and her attempt at a funny Latin American accent renders the bulk of the dictator's lines incomprehensible.

There's quite a bit to like in Pest Control when it's sticking to being a fast-moving light-hearted romp through a land that can exist only in musicals. But it doesn't hold to that spirit throughout, and gets into deep trouble before it's over.

Pest Control runs at the NoHo Arts Center through June 8, 2008. For information and reservations, see www.thenohoartscenter.com.

Open at the Top Productions by arrangement with Canum Entertainment present Pest Control - the Musical. Book by John Jay Moores, Jr.; Music by Vladimir Shainskiy; Lyrics by Scott DeTurk. Scenic Design/Creative Director Eugene Caine-Epstein; Costume Design Scott A. Lane; Lighting Design Luke Moyer; Sound Design Jonathan Burke; Hair and Wig Design Diane Martinous; Assistant Scenic Design Dana Moran Williams; Orchestrations by Scott DeTurk and Jeff Pekarek; Arrangements by Scott DeTurk; Additional Music by by Joseph Church and tea & tonik; Casting by Cindi Rush Casting; Production Management MB Artists; Executive Producer Amy Oh; Production Stage Manager/Assistant Director Christopher "CB" Brown; Associate Choreographer Suzanne Carlton. Based upon the Book, "Pest Control" by Bill Fitzhugh and material by Matthew Scott Hansen. Music Direction by David Manning; Directed & Choreographed by James J. Mellon.

Cast:
Bob Dillon - Darren Ritchie
Parker - Beth Malone
Marcella/Vega - Joanna Glushak
Bug/Renaldo - John Allsopp
Chantelle - Dana Meller
Klaus - Jay Willick
Wolfe - Cleavant Derricks
Mr. Maxwell/Ensemble - Paul Denniston
Jon - Alex Robert Holmes
Jean - Karesa McElheny
Mr. Roach/Ensemble - Jonathan Zenz
Mrs. Roach/Ensemble - Janet Fontaine
Female Reporter/Ensemble - Sabrina Miller
Ensemble - Megan S. Densmore, J.R. Mangels, Billie Puyear.


Photo: Michael Lamont


- Sharon Perlmutter






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