Los Angeles Theater Review: EXORCISTIC: THE ROCK MUSICAL PARODY EXPERIMENT (Orgasmico Theatre Company at the Hollywood Fringe)

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by Paul Birchall on June 14, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


A year or two back, wily producers crafted a stage version of the chilling 1970s horror flick, The Exorcist, and gave it a lavish staging at the Geffen Playhouse.  It was a thudding flop, in spite of a cast whose members included Brooke Shields as Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Exorcistic" Hollywood Fringethe mom and Richard Chamberlain as the much put upon priest exorcist.  Why did this stage version fail?  Because it played the eye-rolling and head-spinning story for deadly seriousness.  No one wants to see a version of The Exorcist that’s depicted with all the solemnity of an actual church sermon.

You want some camp. You want heads spinning around and around. You want lashings of pea soup served direct from the tap. You want actors to roar “May the power of Christ compel you!” at the top of their lungs.  The producers of a new spoof of the classic thriller, Exorcistic: A Rock Musical, have taken these errors of the Geffen production to heart – and the results are gleefully charming and engaging, if a bit rough on execution at this time.

Writer-composer Michael Shaw Fisher’s daffy parody of the classic movie follows in the satanic footsteps of some other ribald musical adaptations of horror movies, from Re-Animator™ The Musical (2010) to Silence! The Musical (2012).  In many ways, though, this Exorcist parody smacks down the Silence of the Lambs adaptation in terms of sheer gutsy ridiculousness.  It is also adds a Noises Off stage-Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Exorcistic" Hollywood Fringewithin-a-stage level of “meta” that is strangely appealing.

A group of actors arrive at a Hollywood Fringe theater to rehearse a new musical based on the 1970s movie about a little girl who gets possessed by the devil.  The ostensible purpose of the show is to raise big bucks for their non-equity theater company — an undeniably comprehensible goal. Sarah Chaney, with her beautifully feathered Farrah Fawcett-y do, is resplendent as both theater luvvy and the play’s Ellen Burstyn surrogate, the sultry actress mother who becomes appalled over her daughter’s transition into yowling, spluttering demon.  And as her daughter, called Megan not Regan for copyright purposes, delightfully gamine Laura Sperrazza is charming and boisterous, even when she becomes drolly croaky and snarly when inhabited by that delightful demon Bazuzu.

At first, the parody of the film appears somewhat straightforward – but then things in the production start to go wrong.  The actress playing Regan/Megan accidentally kills the actor playing Burstyn’s pompous boyfriend (Fisher) for real – and weird disco music starts playing out of nowhere.  It turns out that by channeling the Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Exorcistic" Hollywood Fringedevilish play, the cast has actually released a bona fide demon to torment them – and the audience.

Of course, this does the play’s box office no harm and the show goes on to the Pantages – with the Megan actress now being played by none other than Broadway veteran Anna Bowen.  However, word reaches the cast on opening night that the now-deranged Sperrazza, the original possessed actress from the early production, has broken out of the lunatic asylum and is bound for the theater – where terror and mayhem, understandably, erupt.

The Satanic play-within-a-Satanic play gives the work a complexity that is decidedly beguiling, and the performers assay both their cinematic characters and their “real life” roles with commitment and vigor.  Particularly appealing is the hilarious cameo by real life Broadway performer Bowen as the “big time” Megan, who is quickly Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Exorcistic" Hollywood Fringegiven the bum’s rush when the bona fide possessed Megan shows up at the theater, growling like Beetlejuice on a broken glass smoothie bender.

Director Pat Towne’s production evokes a genially campy tone that fits the absurd material to a T – and Fisher’s music and lyrics are catchy and funny.  One of the show’s wackiest moments is Sperrazza’s hilarious turn singing “Howdy Captain Howdy, how ya dooin’?” to her Ouijia Board – and it is hard to imagine anything more absurd than performer Curt Bonnem’s antics, as he leers and sneers behind her in the role of the play’s main demon.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Exorcistic" Hollywood FringeAdmittedly, the show’s rough edges still show in this production’s early stage:  The theater’s acoustics are flat out terrible, with the performers’ lyrics being drowned out by the over-amplified band – and there were certain pacing issues suggesting barely learned lines and shtick.  Yet, the production has true potential – in many ways its glib cheer provides the perfect combination of snark and affection for the source material.  If you can bear having songs about your mama suckin’ cocks in Hell, this might be a fine Fringe bet for you – with or without the pea soup.

Exorcistic: The Rock Musical Parody Experiment
Orgasmico Theatre Company
part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival
scheduled to end on June 29, 2013
for tickets visit http://hollywoodfringe.org

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