by Grace Treston
Enter St Luke’s Theatre, enclosed in a beautiful Lutheran church on Manhattan’s Restaurant Row, and prepare to be transported both back in time, and across dimensions.
The marriage of science-fiction and 1950s’ doo-wop musical becomes delightfully eccentric in It Came From Beyond. The show combines the two genres into a tightly-weaved narrative that keeps our attention from start to finish. True to writer Cornell Christianson’s prelude, It Came From Beyond is certainly “a Valentine” to classic sci-fi – rather than a mockery of it. Still, the musical is self-aware enough to be peppered with self-deprecating jibes and deliberately antiquated references to the nation’s conflicted history – expect witty remarks about Elizabeth Taylor, the Red Scare and more!
Set in 1959 at a typical ‘all-American’ high school, we meet a host of vibrant characters, each responsible for not one, but two of the standard roles expected in both sci-fi and high school movies. It Came From Beyond runs across two parallel timelines. One focuses the grounded and simple struggles of teenage angst, and the other on the outlandish escapades of a professor trying to quash a hostile alien invasion. The show is directed by Jim Blanchette, and was produced by John Lant and Cornell Christianson.
Interspersed in the two plotlines are some genuinely fantastic musical numbers. Lyrically sharp and authentically ‘50s, the songs will remain in your head for quite some time – especially the title theme. Stephen Michael Schwartz and Norman Evan Thalheimer’s work on the show is to be loudly applauded.
The unruly imagination of comic fanatic Howard is the driving force behind the extra-terrestrial thread of It Came From Beyond. In reality, Howard is a nerdy, lovesick teenager with a penchant for reading and technology – but in his mind and on our stage, we see him in the starring role of his favorite fiction. Howard, played by the sincere Clint Hromscro, becomes “The Professor,” a cerebral master who lacks confidence in his own extraordinary abilities – quite like Howard himself, who struggles to believe in his science project due to the relentless bullying from the bawdy Steve (Bryan S. Walton). Using his comic book fantasy as a way to process the world around him, his banal classroom becomes the setting of a sci-fi thriller in the realm of movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Luckily for the audience, the strong musical numbers that work to narrate the adolescent’s adventures also carry over to the alien-ridden timeline of the show. While Howard envisions himself in the position of the Professor, his classmate Becky – whose father is schoolteacher Mr Fielding – becomes the intelligent and admiring muse behind the Professor’s scientific endeavors. Becky is now played by Danicah Waldo, who gives a confident performance as the stubborn but kind teenager. Becky’s boyfriend is none other than the school bully, Steve.
In the parallel and dramatic timeline of sci-fi fantasy, Steve is still romantically involved with Becky – but his dark secrets bubble to the surface quite early on. Walton gives impressive performances during his solo numbers, making for some of the show’s most memorable moments.
But it is Becky’s father Mr Fielding (David R. Doumeng), and his smitten colleague Ms Benson (Kaitlyn Baldwin) who manage to grab the most attention for their standout performances as awkward schoolteachers and – on the other side – confident military personnel.
A small ensemble of supporting actors do equally well in giddy chorus songs as they do in playing tongue-in-cheek aliens.
The show proves itself capable of becoming an even bigger, wide-scale production with its efforts during “American Way”. This glitzy, quick-witted number could be easily imagined on one of Manhattan’s larger stages. In addition, “Are You One of Them” is a cleverly composed piece of work that really utilizes the comedic talents of Doumeng and Baldwin.
Another interesting facet is the addition of classic horror footage throughout the show, creatively spliced in at the right moments. Despite being famously hard to license, clips from Invaders from Mars, The Flying Saucer, Hideous Sun Demon and several more are successfully featured in the show.
On the whole, It Came From Beyond has quirks and strengths that will hopefully give it the longevity it needs to skyrocket into more success – space pun most certainly intended.
It Came From Beyond has showings every Tuesday at 7pm in St Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. You can purchase tickets from Telecharge.com