BWW Reviews: Dinos Run Amok in TRIASSIC PARQ Musical in OC
If you've ever sat through Steven Spielberg's e-ticket cinematic blockbuster Jurassic Park and wondered to yourself... "Gee, I wonder how those dinosaurs feel about this whole situation," then this cheeky, oddly hilarious musical send-up is the perfect show for you. Silly and even surprisingly touching, TRIASSIC PARQ - THE MUSICAL -- now playing its West Coast Premiere to loud cheers at the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills through February 24 -- is a fresh new stage show that offers a mosquito-on-the-wall look inside the electrified fences of that fictional dino-populated island, but this time from the point-of-view of the dinosaurs themselves. The result? A laugh-riot from start to finish.
Even before the Chance Theater's production of this off-Broadway hit begins, sounds of roaring, stomping beasts fill the new, specifically-configured interior paddock (designed by Joe Holbrook), heightening the anticipation for what's to come. Once the dinos (clad in scaly-outerwear designed by Anthony Tran) come charging in -- armed with plucky charm, fun choreography (provided by Kelly Todd) and belly-laugh-worthy tunes -- you're suddenly transported to a new world we never got to see before.
And, of course, as you would expect from a show featuring all-singing, all-dancing, all-cussing dinosaurs, giddy, over-the-top antics are, naturally, the order of the day here -- and it's downright infectious.
Loosely -- and I mean loosely -- based on Spielberg's 1993 box office hit (which itself is based on Michael Crichton's best-selling 1990 novel), TRIASSIC PARQ is, curiously enough, a whip-smart, self-aware, rock musical spoof that dramatizes the thoughts and feelings of a group of human-engineered dinosaurs that have been created in the modern age by combining amber-extracted dinosaur DNA with plentiful amphibian DNA. Ah, the marvels of science and technology.
The once extinct species are now all living in a safari-like "theme park" called Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica. Smartly, in order to prevent "unauthorized" dino-spawning in the island, the humans have solely engineered only all female dinos for this grand experiment. Good idea. But -- as we all have learned from the book and film -- life finds a way.
...Or, at least, in this case, spontaneously grow new body parts.
For the dinosaurs themselves, life in Isla Nublar is pleasant enough, though not without its share of human-like struggles and insecurities. In the eccentric world presented by TRIASSIC PARQ, the dinosaurs not only have full-on philosophical conversations and debates with each other, they also -- get this -- suffer with gender-identity issues. One dino is hiding a newly protruding secret. While another is struggling to find her special place in the world, confused by inexplicable feelings that have, uh, literally sprung up overnight.
But all these Deep Themes and Big Important Lessons are quickly upended thanks to the musical's amusing, profanity-laced words and music provided by Marshall Pailet, who also directed this new West Coast production (Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo co-wrote the book for the musical with Pailet).
From the rousing opener "Welcome To Triassic Parq" -- which explains that, in order to avoid any forthcoming lawsuits, the title of the show had to be altered -- to songs like "Love Me as a Friend," "Dick Fix," and "Morgan Freeman's Song" (which, I promise you, are exactly what their titles suggest they are), TRIASSIC PARQ is 90 minutes of raunchy, high-energy fun. Do you like your musical-comedy absurd? This show is right up your alley.
As presented in TRIASSIC PARQ, the dinosaurs -- a small, tight-knit pseudo-family of velociraptors and t-rex's -- are more like adorable, misunderstood stuffed animals rather than the monstrous, carnivorous predators we have long thought they are (although, yes, they do all still enjoy feasting on that sacrificial goat delivered magically up from the ground every morning by their God-like deity they call "Lab").
Much of the action focuses on young, cute-as-a-princess Velociraptor of Innocence (a spry Keaton Williams), whose boundless curiosity urges her to defy the repeated warnings of the tribe's self-appointed "mama" guru, the Velociraptor of Faith (Jackson Tobiska) and goes on a quest for answers. She soon ventures off beyond the protective walls of their paddock (luckily, as paralleled in Jurassic Park, the electrified fence gets deactivated) in search of truth -- and the long banished Velociraptor of Science (the hilarious Camryn Zelinger), in the hopes that she could provide some alternative answers.
All of this, by the way, was spawned (hee hee) by the discovery of a mysterious, newly-sprouted, uh, appendage that suddenly appears on T-Rex 2 (Kellie Spill) -- much to the shock of her BFF T-Rex 1 (Micaela Martinez). Observing all of the antics from the fringes are Pianosaurus (music director Taylor Stephenson, up high with the band) and mute troublemaker Mime-a-saurus (word-free scene-stealer Alex Bueno).
As everyone's faith in an unseen higher power is slowly debunked by the truth presented by science, much hilarity ensues as gender-switcheroos take over the lives of the island's short-armed residents. What happens when chaos wrecks order and allows new feelings and urges to bubble to the surface? Watch and see... and laugh your ass off.
As ridiculously silly TRIASSIC PARQ is, underneath the surface yuks is a surprisingly thoughtful, progressive-thinking musical that mirrors many contemporary debates of the day. But, yes, there's no use denying that the musical's absurdist comedy is pleasurably distracting and is the true reason why this show is so wildly entertaining.
Why try to figure out the reason behind Morgan Freeman (played with extra spunk by Zelinger) showing up as a janitor-slash-narrator? Why question the improbable logistics of sex between a small velociraptor and a gigantic tyrannosaurus -- not to mention the fact that they're both female? Singing, dancing, emoting dinosaurs with therapy-worthy issues should have already tipped you off.
Even the first sight of the dinos will already have you chuckling in glee -- especially when you notice that their hands have been bound in gloves that suggest just three appendages (and, lest you forget what gender they are, their fingernails come in manicured shades like hot pink, of course).
And, of course, the gender-bending fun comes courtesy of a talented, brilliant, athletically-blessed cast, which also includes two male actors taking on "female" roles with aplomb. As the V. of I., Williams is an adorkable bundle of naive joy, aided by a terrific singing voice and a remarkable gymnastic ability to leap up and down the heights and depths of the stage (and still sing in full voice). Her "mama" played by Tobiska has a seriousness underscoring great comic timing.
But let's not count out the great work of the anatomically correct cast members, particularly Zelinger whose dual turn as Morgan Freeman (!) and, later, as the mysterious V. of Science is a double-whammy of comic goodness. And a special shout-out to the silent but deadly Ms. Bueno for contributing a cure for my aversion to mimes. Brava, ladies, brava!
Fans of the book -- and especially the movie -- will also appreciate the many winks and nods TRIASSIC PARQ alludes to its the source material (lines like "clever girl" are thrown out like pop culture candy). Even the repeated chorus of "We Are Dinosaurs," the show's finale, sounds suspiciously like John Williams' familiar overture anthem from the movie. Cute homage, if it was meant as such.
Granted, while the show isn't on par with comedies like THE BOOK OR MORMON or even, in a way, like AVENUE Q when it comes to story treatment, what it lacks in a sensical, straightforward narrative is wholly and forgivably alleviated by its out-there dialogue and its cheeky score, replete with clever, expletive-heavy lyrics. At times I actually found myself missing a few lines here and there because everyone -- me included -- was laughing pretty boisterously (or perhaps the rapid-fire dialogue and musical delivery just wasn't getting out as it should).
All told, TRIASSIC PARQ is great, dino-tastic fun -- a great mad-cap musical excuse to revel in unabashed silliness. I mean, c'mon... how much more ridiculous can you get with dancing dinosaurs struggling with spontaneous gender switcheroos?
Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ
Photos from Chance Theater's production of TRIASSIC PARQ - THE MUSICAL by Doug Catiller/True Image Studio.
Chance Theater's Production of TRIASSIC PARQ: THE MUSICAL continues through Sunday, February 24. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm and Sundays at 2pm.
The Chance Theater is located at 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, CA 92807.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 777-3033 or visit www.chancetheater.com.