When it comes to the ongoing musicalization of old, forgotten movies, apparently everything is fair game. So it is that The Children, a 1980 horror flick, has found a home onstage at the TBG Theater as part of the New York Musical Theater Festival. Set in Ravensback, Mass., in 1980, Children cracks the suburban ideal on its head after a school bus rides through the polluted aftermath of a nuclear plant explosion, not only killing all passengers onboard but turning them into zombies who come back to visit the family members they love. The only problem is, when they reach out and touch them, they fry them as well.
Kitschy as it can be, Children actually has a high caliber of talent onstage as well as backstage. Maria de Cesare (whose comedic timing and delivery are reminiscent of Saturday Night Live's Cheri Oteri) and Jonathan Rayson star as Cathy and John, the heads of the main family, and blend excellent, harmonious voices with silly physical comedy.
Tally Sessions is also impressive as the wary sheriff, and at the performance I saw, he was able to overcome microphone problems by projecting his voice. Both Trisha Rapier and Stephanie Thompson also demonstrate powerful singing chops (like most cast members, they appear in several diverse roles). Yet it's Jeff Hiller who stands out the most, transcending gender as Molly, the alcoholic who runs the local general store.
The super-campy Children starts off strong, but as its cast gets whittled down, the show's pace loses some steam, and the later death scenes don't pack as much fun—or laughter—as the earlier ones do. At one hour, 45 minutes, director Tony Speciale's production could have been trimmed a little bit, or an intermission and a couple of new songs might have been added. The songwriting team of Hal Goldberg and Stan Richardson does come up with some real winners, including "I Have Such an Awful Disposition," "Two Kinds of Love," and "I Loved You Before You Were Born." Several of the songs are even performed by the characters postmortem, with grotesque molten-flesh face masks on.
Parricide was never such fun.