BWW Review: FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE PARODY MUSICAL Slays at All Puppet Players (WARNING: Explicit Language)
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE PARODY MUSICAL Slays at All Puppet Players (WARNING: Explicit Language)
WARNING: In honor of, "Friday the 13th: The Parody Musical," this review is explicit and full of crude language. This is your last warning.
(WARNING: Explicit Language)
Holy shit, the All Puppet Players' "Friday The 13th: The Parody Musical" is gory, tacky, glorious, and fuckin' funny as hell from start to finish. Based on the massively successful Friday The 13th franchise, Shaun Michael McNamara has adapted his own, all puppet version full of felt boobs, carnage, and puns so bad they take years off your life. The show utilizes preexisting musical numbers from shows like Hairspray, Hamilton, West Side Story, and Wicked, bastardizing them to fit the story of a few college kids slowly being offed at Crystal Lake summer camp sometime in the 80's. To be honest, I jumped at the opportunity to review this show in large part due to the unanimous positive word of mouth and rave reviews I've heard of past productions. Naughty, hilarious, low art is absolutely my jam and APP has it in droves. There is no way I'm ever gonna miss another one of their shows. Based on the audience size this past Friday, I don't seem to be the only one. The hype is real, and it is entirely deserved. I can confidently say that "Friday The 13th: The Parody Musical" is the funniest show I've seen in Arizona in years. Guttural, laugh out loud, wipe the tears away kind of funny with jokes as fast, furious, and perfectly obnoxious as a jackhammer.
Like a younger, edgier Seth MacFarlane, McNamara sets the tone as he unassumingly walks on stage sans puppet to give the curtain speech. This is key, because the five minutes of intro are comedic gold. It's clear he is the heart and blood of this show and company, acting as Producer, Director, Writer, and Star. Some people might frown on such over extension, but I say, "fuck 'em," because I wanted MORE McNamara! I'm now in love with APP, but over 75% of that passion is directed solely at McNamara himself. This I can confidently hyperbolize, McNamara is the funniest damn performer in The Valley and it was clear by the end of his curtain speech, which felt more like a stand up routine. Quick witted and polished, yet natural, it was clear he is exceedingly bright and skilled. I could gush more about McNamara, but I don't want to come across as stalkery. Screw it. I'd totally stalk him. When he puts the puppet on, a new level of expertise comes into play, and it's the main reason he's been able to find such success in this niche market.
The set up at All Puppet Players has all the actors covered in black, including their faces, forcing the audience to focus on the puppets alone. It makes it hard to track which actors play which characters, but McNamara is so advanced in his puppetry, nuance, variation, and improv that he's on his own level, elevating every scene no matter the character he plays. Likened to a Jeff Dunham, it's a wonder McNamara hasn't exploded on America's Got Talent or some other place where puppeteers find fame, I don't fucking know, but give him everything! Okay, I'm gonna shelve McNamara for now.
This cast is killer...nailing their character stereotypes and bringing life to a wide assortment of characters. Jennie Rhiner is hilarious, taking on multiple characters and ridiculous dramatic beats. Zachary Funk is the perfect Jason Voorhees, a scary fucking figure that shreds the stage in a "Puttin' On The Ritz" parody. Laura Anne Keeney is an obvious stand out as Jessica the sexy camp counselor. She is also the only cast member with a total knock out singing voice. The ensemble does a commendable job keeping up with the adapted lyrics, but the focus of this musical is definitely not on singing. The songs work thanks to the adapted lyrics and jokes by Shawn Collins and McNamara. It's a cast of comedians over signers, a trade off that is justified by how damn funny everyone is. Think SNL musical numbers, not Broadway. Music Director, Jay Melberg does a stellar job finding ways to highlight the humor and character. The wordy group numbers come across with surprising ease under Melberg's tutelage. The entire score is prerecorded, spliced karaoke tracks, which never bothered me, and even added to production value with songs like "You Can't Stop The Beat" using a full orchestra.
The concept of taking a children's theme and putting a naughty twist on it is not a new idea. The show draws direct comparisons to Avenue Q, Family Guy, The Happytime Murders, and even Crank Yankers. But the real success of the show lays in McNamara's script. It is offbeat, dark, and full of nerdy musical and movie references. The comedy here is so well written, it breathes new life into the genre. The script includes fourth wall breaks that are so perfectly orchestrated and rehearsed that they feel off the cuff and unique. It's quick, relentless, and exceedingly well directed by, of course, McNamara himself. There is no real depth to the characters, and the story line is simple as hell, but it all felt apropos for the shitty scripts it was parodying. Though the ending lacked a deserving climax, it didn't matter. We in the audience were already eating out of their hand.
My only complaint is the age restriction. It is unfortunate that the company doesn't allow anyone under 17 years old into the show, because I think APP could easily lead the way with creating, cultivating, and growing young audiences for the local theatre scene. And, in my opinion, nothing in the show was more explicit than in an episode of South Park. This is smart, unapologetic work that could open up new interest in theatre for the next generation, something every major theatre is currently attempting to create.
The puppets are as good as any I've seen, touting different animals, sizes, and features. The best is Mrs. Voorhees, voiced by McNamara: a disgusting, floating head equipped with one white eyeball that blinks. The cast does great with keeping the puppets active and creating distinct subtleties, which make all the difference between an amateur and a pro. The best work is done by my future husband, Shaun Michael McNamara, as Dr. Loom, the scientist. Like a blue Ron Burgundy, Loom's feathery hair has a mind of its own as he berates stage hands and calls the audience drunks, systematically stealing every scene and, ultimately, the show. I feel extra compelled to call McNamara out, because the man didn't even fucking bow at the end of the show! A dick move on his part. I had my panties all ready to throw and everything. Bear in mind I had only taken them off because I'd accidentally peed myself while laugh too hard.
The night was an unexpected and special experience unlike anything I've seen outside of Off-Broadway theatres in New York. The thing is, I can't really compare this musical to anything else I've seen in Arizona. Dr. Loom says early on, "You're not gonna see this shit at Phoenix Theatre," and that rings true throughout. It is filthy, crude, and offensive. There's minimal set, which I believe is reused from another theatre's recent production. Little to no choreography, challenging as it must be to do with a puppet on your arm and black lycra covering your face. On the flip side, no theatre is doing comedy as well as All Puppet Players. It is clear that this little company is not even attempting to go head to head with the other musical theatre producers. They are doing something completely different, fresh, and kick ass! From what I understand, our local performance world is divided with little overlap into the "Theatre" and "Comedy" communities. Different history, audiences, and productions. With APP, they've honed humor over nine seasons, and now they're the leader in local musical comedy. You can sense a stand up comedy style, with an emcee presentation, built on a background in improv and writing. A recipe for a ringing success with an uncanny understanding of contemporary humor.
I could go on and on, but I feel the need to reiterate the negative in order to even out this review and emphasize how APP has room to grow. The puppets by Kristin McNamara & Jay Tyson are badass, yes, and the lighting by Brett Aiken was stunning, true, but the set pieces and props could be better. The sound could use a major upgrade. The quality of the work being done at APP deserves a bigger budget, a full band, and more performances. That can only happen with support. Go to see All Puppet Player shows! Donate to their Patreon Page, a subscription site that connects organizations with sponsors, donors, and art's patrons of all kind (Link Below)! Spread the word and share their story! The small alternative companies like APP, BLK BOX PHX, and A/CTC need support to survive. They are doing work no one else is, and the risks deserve attention and support. APP represents a bright, hilarious future for theatre in Arizona and I wouldn't be surprised if they become a national success. Go check them out!
"Friday The 13th: The Parody Musical" runs at the Playhouse On The Park until October 28th. More Info and Tix: www.allpuppetplayers.com or Call: 602-254-2151
Location: Playhouse on the Park at The Central Arts Plaza 1850 N Central Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85004
Donate and Support All Puppet Players: www.patreon.com/allpuppetplayers