BWW Review: Fantastic Z's PSYCHO BEACH PARTY Provides Hot Kitschy Hilarity

Psycho Beach Party
Helen Roundhill and Anthony Pallozzi in
Psycho Beach Party from Fantastic Z
Photo credit: Alex Garland Photography

I'll admit I'm quite picky and protective about the works of Charles Busch. He's one of my favorite authors with his brilliant ability to tell a well thought out story through the kitschy lens of 40's, 50's and 60's pop culture. I've been fortunate enough to see the master himself perform his own works three times. I've only ever seen a local production attempt one of his works once before (a dreadful bastardization of "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" that need never be mentioned again). So when I heard that Fantastic Z was performing his most well known work, "Psycho Beach Party" AND it was opening on my birthday I thought this could either be a wonderful thing or the universe playing a cruel joke. Well lucky for me (and for all of you) the folks at Fantastic Z and director Kyle Baiz must have as much love and respect for the piece as I do as they managed a fun and frothy, pitch perfect production.

If you're familiar with the movie there are a few differences with the stage play and if you're unfamiliar with either then I feel sorry for you. It's Malibu Beach, California in the summer of 1962 and Chicklet Forrest (Helen Roundhill) wants nothing more than to learn to surf like all the cool boys on the beach, especially the dreamiest of them all Star Cat (Charlie Chittenden). So after some convincing she talks the local surf guru Kanaka (Kurt Langmeyer) to teach her. But all is not normal with the young Chicklet. She may seem sweet and innocent but she has a dark side that keeps popping out. It may have something to do with secrets her mother Mrs. Forrest (Anthony Pallozzi) is keeping from her. It may have something to do a deep seated childhood trauma. And worst of all, it may have something to do with the attacks that keep happening on the beach. Can they figure out what's really happening before things go too far? And most importantly, will Chicklet get her first kiss from her dream guy?

Busch takes the trope of the old Frankie and Annette, Beach Blanket movies and turns them on their head with drag roles, psycho killers and enough latent homosexuality to make Rock Hudson nervous. And Baiz takes that insanity and paces it out brilliantly with just enough time to revel in one laugh before you're well on your way to the next. And he's assembled a top notch cast from the leads through to the ensemble.

Psycho Beach Party
Charlie Chittenden and Trey McGee in
Psycho Beach Party from Fantastic Z
Photo credit: Alex Garland Photography

Chittenden is enough hunky eye candy for three Busch plays. In fact so much so that it was a bit distracting. Thankfully in later scenes he put his shirt on so I could focus on his hysterical character and facial expressions. Pallozzi brings in a riotous Joan Crawford-esque turn as Chicklet's unstable mother. At times I would have like a little more variation as once she hit "Mommie Dearest" mode she stayed there but still very funny. Michael Ryan Blackwood as Hollywood star Bettina Barnes also brought in some fun moments but also suffered from a lack of levels. Langmeyer brought in the swagger and ego beautifully only to throw it all away once he's under the sway of ... well, I can't say. No spoilers. Will Lippman and Trey McGee are adorable as the surfer dudes and would be lovers and played off the will they or won't they aspect perfectly. And I have to mention Charlie Cook who truly supplied some delicious obsession as Chicklet's BFF Berdine.

But the true standout here, the one who walked off with the show is Helen Roundhill. Not just the lead carrying a difficult role and difficult show but what we have here is a star turn. We have a young woman with oodles of comedic chops who, with a bit more growth and focus, could go far. Not only does she manage the sweet innocent center of the story and keeps the play going but her "transitions" throughout the evening were a thing of beauty and each and every one just got better and better. This is someone we need to keep an eye on.

So what the folks at Fantastic Z have done here is given me a wonderful birthday present and luckily it's one that everyone else can partake in as well. And so with my three letter rating system I give "Psycho Beach Party" a wicked little YAY. Ann Bowman says "You must catch this one!" and you don't ever want to cross Ann Bowman. See the play and you'll understand.

"Psycho Beach Party" from Fantastic Z Theatre Company performs at Eclectic Theatre through June 11th. For tickets or information visit them online at

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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