BWW Review: FUTURE SEX, INC. - The New Musical That Sucks So Hard But Feels So Good
Back when I worked at Center Theatre Group, the North American tour of WE WILL ROCK YOU passed through the Ahmanson, and everybody hated it. Our subscribers used words like "juvenile", "trite", "tacky", and "unpolished" to describe the Queen jukebox musical during patron e-mail surveys. My coworkers unanimously panned the production. "Why are we doing this?" was a frequently asked question. "I'm not using my comps. Does anybody want my comps?" Everybody fiercely hated the show with a passion -- everybody except me. FUTURE SEX, INC. brings me flashbacks of WE WILL ROCK YOU, a musical that is so horrible that I just can't help but to fall in love with it.
The story is set in a dystopian future where an evil corporation (Monocorp) has taken over the world. Sex is outlawed and an alliance of fabulously dressed rebels battle the CEO and her army of pop stars, rappers, and Board Members (who I believe are also strippers.)
Yeah, the story is stupid and makes absolutely no sense most the time. But you know what else is stupid and makes no sense? A geek and his fiancé breaking down in the countryside, walking to a castle/spaceship that's filled with transvestite aliens from the planet "Transsexual", who spend their time doing the Time Warp. Look how that turned out for Richard O'Brien and the cast of ROCKY HORROR.
High art is overrated. Shows that are really popular are also overrated. HAMILTON is overrated (standby a bunch of hate tweets from Lin Manuel fan club robots). To give you a sense of my musical taste, I've complied a list of my (right now) favorite musicals:
- Evil Dead the Musical - by George Reinblatt (yes, I rank this higher than Hamilton -- get over it Hamilton bots);
- Reefer Madness the Musical (before Kristen Bell was Veronica Mars and starred in every new Disney movie, she was Mary Lane. It's pretty hilarious, actually);
- Rocky Horror (although it was much better before Glee got to it);
- Jesus Christ Superstar (I even like the 2000 version where all the apostles look like Backstreet Boys for some reason); and,
- Book of Mormon (the best part is watching the faces of audience members during Hasa Diga Eebowai).
Give it some time and TLC, I have a feeling FUTURE SEX, INC. has the potential of making it onto my highly coveted and exclusive list of top musicals. It's not quite there, yet, but it does have some things going for it that gives it strong potential:
First, this repulsive piece of filth has "cult following" written all over it.
Second, the production design is killer! I firmly believe that a strong production design can cure nearly every theatrical, film, or TV woe -- Baz Luhrmann could probably make a three hour long movie that featured nothing but dogs doing it and it would be interesting. This production (directed by Kiff Scholl) made really bold choices with costumes (by the insanely talented Michael Mullen), hair & makeup (by Shelia Dorn), projections (by Katerina Pagsolingan and Yee Eun Nam), and videos (by Troy Hauschild). Pictures say so much more than words when it comes to design, so just take a look:
The projections and videos went way above and beyond what I expected. The production actually shot some really professional looking commercials for fictional Monocorp products and played them before the start of the performance. You can watch some of these pre-show videos on YouTube:
And the third thing this show has going for it is the cast. Everyone seemed very committed to their characters and dedicated to the musical's insanely weird mission. Strong performances all around.
No offense to the leads, but I have to first applaud the four unusually strong ensemble members who provided backup dancing and vocals throughout. In small productions, the ensemble is frequently neglected. Not here. Erica Ibsen, Natalie Polisson, Briana Price, and Elise Zell slayed the stage. They played corporate board members, Siamese Sex Show burlesque dancers, and a variety of other characters; they were featured in just about every scene; their voices strong and their moves always on time. A weak showing by these four ladies would have absolutely sunk this show, but they came through strong. Bravo.
Sean Leon was another standout. Leon played Jamal, an ex-convict and rapper who works as a corporate security guard/henchman for Monocorp. Leon rapping "Rodeo Drive" while in hot pursuit of the protagonist in a car full of backup singing hoes (shout-out to the amazing ensemble!) was the high point of the evening.
Also worth mentioning is Tanya Alexander, who played the CEO of Monocorp. She brought enough swag to the stage to go around, and then some. Jolie Adamson, who portrayed the pop princess/robot Cherry, played a hysterical monotone robot in one scene and quickly magically transformed into a believable pop diva in the next. Adamson has an excellent voice and a solid stage presence. Kevin McDonald captured
the meekness of his Monocorp Director of Marketing character perfectly. Ally Dixon played the CEO's Executive Assistant, Vivian, with a believable rigidness and was able to easily transform to a Lady Gaga style diva effortlessly. Michael Uribes embodied the foreign weirdness of his "Sex Magician" character and never failed to deliver laughs. Maya Lynne Robinson (Malika) bravely showed the world her "O" face not once, but twice, during the performance, and had some of the better lines. Alex Vergel (MC) was an excellent host with superb comedic timing an apparent ability to improv really well.
The show still needs some polishing, though. The jokes are really hit and miss, with some quips causing uncontrollable spastic belly laughs, some landing flat, and others simply not making any sense. Awkward silence from the audience after (seeming) attempts at jokes was a little too common. Most jokes landed well, though.
This is John Papageorge's (book writer, composer, and lyricist) first attempt at a musical, and it is a very solid first attempt. All the material is there, it just needs some organizing and TLC. I'm not sure how much this was workshopped before I saw it on opening night (if it even was workshopped at all) but now that the show is fully staged before a live audience, he can zero in on what's working, and what isn't, and make changes. Oftentimes what seems like it would work on paper just doesn't read well to audiences, and conversely things that might have seemed like horrible ideas on paper get the best reactions. Until a show is on its feet, it's simply impossible for a writer to know what it's going to look like. Emerging writers are especially prone to the disconnect between the audience in their heads and the audience that actually shows up, and can benefit from workshopping the most. On a second (or third) go-around, I expect a lot of the criticisms I have regarding the writing of this new piece will disappear.
Also, the production did verge on seeming a little too close to the musical WE WILL ROCK YOU. In WWRY, which is also set in the future, an evil corporation (Globalsoft) takes over the world, bans music, and a group of rebel Bohemians try to overthrow Globalsoft and the Killer Queen (the corporation's swaggy CEO). Pretty much the same overall story of FUTURE SEX, except replace "music" with "sex"...
Enough is different that I won't call FUTURE SEX, INC. a blatant carbon copy of WE WILL ROCK YOU, but there are some pretty glaring similarities between the story, design, heavy use of projections, and even the choreography (Cherry's signature pinky-to-lip Dr. Evil pose is a frequent move by Globalsoft Board Members in the WWRY number "Killer Queen", though admittedly WWRY copied it from Austin Powers). But, even if FUTURE SEX did draw heavy inspiration from WWRY, who cares? WWRY was awesome and worth imitating. And again, although there are plenty of similarities, there is enough that is different.
All the puzzle pieces are all there for FUTURE SEX, INC. to be a truly marvelous cult musical. The show has a talented director (Kiff Scholl), some amazing designers, an interesting story, and a dedicated cast. I foresee a delightful future for this musical once a few of the kinks are worked out.
Who Should See It?
I don't see FUTURE SEX, INC. having universal appeal, but this unapologetic piece of camp does have an audience.
Anyone who loves cheesy cult films and musicals will love this production. If you're a fan of ROCKY HORROR, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, REEFER MADNESS, EVIL DEAD, REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, WE WILL ROCK YOU, or anything on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000, you will love this show. If you hate any of those above referenced things with a passion, you will likewise probably hate this show and think it's stupid.
I'd also recommend this show to literally anyone in the 18-35 demographic.
If you're a prude, stay home.
How to See It
FUTURE SEX, INC. runs through February 19, with performances on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 10 pm, and Sundays at 7 pm. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here.
The Lounge Theatre is located in West Hollywood at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038.
Photo Credits: Ed Krieger Photography