It Came From Beyond

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Like a comet in an irregular orbit, It Came From Beyond has returned to menace Manhattan, bearing down on Off-Broadway while emanating just enough charm and good will to keep from crashing. This sci-fi musical was spawned in 2005 at the New York Musical Festival, then rose again the next year in Los Angeles. Now, back for an oddball run of Tuesday-only performances, it turns out that, despite the threatening title, it has come in peace. And that’s the problem. Meant as an homage to the 1950s and as a parody of that era’s Cold War monster flicks (most obviously, It Came From Outer Space), playwright Cornell Christianson’s script is campy, but not sufficiently outrageous; other-worldly, but not scary. And opportunities to freshen the writing to reflect current political and societal upheaval have gone untaken.

Under the well-paced direction of Jim Blanchette, the production double-casts and doubles down on twin storylines. After a fight, Harold (Clint Hromsco), the high school science geek, and Steve (Bryan S. Walton), the class bully, are stuck together in detention. They are watched over by the science teacher, Mr. Fielding (David R. Doumeng), and driven to distraction by Fielding’s lovely daughter, Becky (Kayleen Seidl). Sporadically, the home economics teacher, Miss  Benson (Kaitlyn Baldwin), breezes in to make eyes at Fielding.

It is hard to spoof a low-budget movie when you are a low-budget stage production. The most spine-tingling moments of the night involve wondering whether the actors are going to accidentally bash any of the lights.

Concurrently, the comic book that Harold is reading comes alive. That tale involves a science professor (Hromsco), a bullying stranger (Walton), an anti-Commie colonel with his own lovely daughter (Doumeng and Seidl), and Jayne (Baldwin), a sexy army private who has a thing for the colonel. Harold schemes to rid himself of Steve while the professor devises a plan to save the world from an alien invasion. For some reason, he is aided by a fembot named Vera (Natalie Michaels), who expels ticker tape and speaks only in beeps.

Humor is dished out in three varieties of vanilla. There are double entendres that range from painfully obvious (“Professor…you promised to show me your telescope.”) to successfully silly (Colonel: “You don’t want to be debriefed in an igloo.” Jayne: “Speak for yourself.”). There is doublespeak (“The Missing Report Report is also missing, and nobody can find the Director of Missing Reports.”) and there are endless bouts of Fielding and the Colonel being resistant to the obvious overtures of Benson and Jayne. Meanwhile, composer/lyricists Norman E. Thalheimer and Stephen M. Schwartz (the latter not to be confused with the multiple Tony-winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, of Wicked fame) offer up 16 serviceable songs, a mix of ballads, gung ho Americana and 1950s swing.

 From left: the Colonel (David R. Doumeng), Jayne (Kaitlyn Baldwin), and Henry (Clint Hromsco) stand tall in  It Came From Beyond . Top: Hromsco, foreground, with Bryan S. Walton and Kayleen Seidl. Photographs by Adam Smith, Jr.

From left: the Colonel (David R. Doumeng), Jayne (Kaitlyn Baldwin), and Henry (Clint Hromsco) stand tall in It Came From Beyond. Top: Hromsco, foreground, with Bryan S. Walton and Kayleen Seidl. Photographs by Adam Smith, Jr.

In her Off-Broadway debut, Seidl sparkles as the two identical daughters. There is not much of an acting task for her to deal with, beyond portraying wholesomeness, but she finds a new gear in her musical numbers. With her warm and bright soprano, a duet with Doumeng called “Daddy’s Girl” is more moving than it has a right to be. And, when the world’s end is nigh, she brings poignancy to her plaintive number, “What’s A Girl to Do?” Hromsco is also quite charismatic, with a rich tenor that serves him well as the professor but makes Harold a less believable nerd. As Vera, Michaels can beep with the best of them but hasn’t found a way to keep that running gag from running out of gas. And Walton, tasked with two tricky roles, is a mixed bag. His rubbery face does not scream “bully,” but it does nicely shout out “alien in disguise.”  He delivers his first big song, “A Million Eyes,” so poorly that it is easy to believe he is not an oxygen-based life form. But then he miraculously redeems himself minutes later with the fine, and more demanding, Sinatra-esque tune, “Fifties Kind of Guy.”

It is hard to spoof a low-budget movie when you are a low-budget stage production. The most spine-tingling moments of the night involve wondering whether the actors are going to accidentally bash any of the lights hung from the low ceiling of the St. Luke’s stage. (On opening night the answer was yes, as a flag-waving cast member gave an overhead instrument a solid whack.). The charm of unamplified singing is mostly undermined here by recorded instrumentals played through a tired sound system. A piano could have saved the day. The bland set consists mostly of pale school desks on casters. Projections constantly running on a small upstage screen are often hidden by the action going on downstage. Fortunately, the costumes, by Jennifer Anderson, offer visual relief with bright splashes of color for the women, and assorted bits of odd alien anatomy poking out when least expected.

Performances of It Came From Beyond run Tuesdays at 7 p.m. through July 24 at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th St. (between Eighth and Ninth avenues). Tickets may be purchased through Telecharge by calling (212) 239-6200 or visiting telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/It-Came-from-Beyond-The-Musical/.

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