Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Love Is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy
The Annoyance Theatre

James Asmus
Horror films, B-movies and tabloid trash have all provided inspiration for Off-Broadway musicals, and this smart production about necrophilia proves there's still, if you'll forgive the pun, life in the genre. Love is Dead, with book and lyrics by James Asmus and Andrew Hobgood and music by Julie Nichols, finds a new way to blend genre traditions like wayward corpses, lovable loners and societal paranoia into a clever little book musical that makes for a fun evening at the improv club the Annoyance.

The story's hero, Orin (played by Asmus), is a young but reclusive mortician who lacks the self-confidence to romance any women other than those who've left for the next life. He's a close cousin to Little Shop of Horrors's Seymour and of course Little Shop has an Orin of its own (the dentist), so the homage is obvious. This Orin has been examining (and romancing) the corpses of the female victims of a series of mass murders. Á la Six Feet Under, we see the corpses conversing with Orin as if they were alive. When Julie (Brooke Bagnall), the ex-girlfriend of a male victim, visits Orin to ID her late boyfriend's body, a mutual attraction develops between Orin and Julie. Orin is challenged by his first opportunity for a relationship with a living woman, but the challenges get greater when Dana (Megan Johns), the DNA forensic scientist hired by the police to help solve the crimes, becomes a rival to Julie for Orin's affections. By the end of act one, Orin has become the leading suspect for the murders, and we find out (prematurely, I would say), who the real killer is.

The improv-trained cast directed by Hobgood has a lot of fun with the material, delivering the dark comedy with a sure sense of timing and the ability to telegraph quirky character traits quickly. Asmus and Hobgood might work at fleshing out Orin and Jane a bit more, as the supporting characters are more entertaining than the leads. Orin's current corpse lover is played by Lyndsay Hailey as an energetic and lively hottie. The deceased male victim is a deadpan skater dude named TK Nichols. Mort Burke's skinny frame and mop of blond hair give him the perfect physical appearance for the character and he finds some new approaches to the stoned surfer/skater archetype. The incompetent cops are two sides of Don Knotts' immortal Barney Fife. Daniel Jessup is the too-serious sheriff and Nick Vatterott the dim-witted Deputy Don. Though the types are familiar, their dry delivery of the funny lines and running jokes in the script make the characters work. As the controlling, self-important DNA forensic scientist, Johns makes a fine secondary villain.

The pop and hip-hop influenced score is enjoyable, with at least one hook, in the song "Unconditional Love," that's stayed in my brain. Nichols does an especially nice job establishing a mood for the piece with her incidental music, which is nicely played by Nichols on keyboards, Jamie Martinez on Bass and Jeff DeRoche on drums.

Chicago is a great place to study and practice the art of improv. This cast has trained at schools like the Second City, ImprovOlympics and the home of this production, the Annoyance. The presentational style of improv, together with the abilities its performers hone in establishing character and continually refining their delivery for maximum laughs, translate well to musical comedy. However, if improv theaters are going to do musicals, the performers ought to be taking voice classes as well. The singing voices here were certainly listenable (though Asmus has some serious pitch problems), but unrefined. The voices probably didn't do justice to Nichols' score, which sounded best when it was in the hands of the band.

Love Is Dead is a good time, though. Asmus, Hobgood and company have put together a funny, outrageous and gross-enough for an improv club evening that's an original twist on a familiar genre. It closes with an understated, subtle joke that rivals Some Like It Hot's immortal "Nobody's perfect" in its simplicity. There's a big difference between a good time at an improv club and a classic like Little Shop, but the beauty of improv work is the opportunity for its creators to keep improving it. Asmus, Nichols and Hobgood have a good start here.

Love Is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy will be performed through October 26, 2007 at the Annoyance Theatre, 4840 N. Broadway, Chicago. Tickets ($15.00) can be purchased at the or by phone at 773-561-4665.

Photo: Jeff Goumas

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