The Our Lady of Pompeii Church’s Demo Hall is the fringiest of Fringe venues. Sunlight streams in from long neglected gray windows, icicle lights and fake ivy from some long abandoned post-service reception droop gloomily across the room, vending machines hum in the corner, and the seats are all on one level. It makes sense that the hall is home to Cancer! The Musical, the kind of boldly titled but low on quality show audiences have come to expect from the festival. The surprise is that, against all odds, Cancer! is actually pretty good. Who’d have guessed it?
Our story begins with a sextet of rats in a testing lab, each hoping that they’ll be the one to nobly die and cure cancer. One rodent gets his wish. The lucky scientist behind the discovery is Dr. Bernard Bernard, who hopes his awesome innovation will finally get him laid. However, it isn’t long before sinister insurance and pharmaceutical corporations are hunting for Bernard, forcing him to go into hiding.
The show does a nice job of combining its many slapstick gags and bad puns with the serious side of its title disease. The balance is impressive, and helped greatly by Topher Owen as Dr. Harris and Inga Wilson as Annie, the play’s young lovers. Dr. Harris is the show’s emotional core, but Owen is equally adept at physical comedy. Owen and Dustin Gardner as Dr. Bernard have a fantastic number halfway through the first act called “Cut It/Cure It” that’s worth the $15 alone. The remaining actors also drive the script forward with their energy and commitment. The most exciting numbers are the ones where everyone is onstage.
Despite being a lot of fun and having varying musical styles, it seems like the Fringe is the show’s current final destination. Work needs to be done if this wants to become a full-fledged evening out.
Strengthening the book would be the place to start. The show has an unnecessary intermission that kills momentum. Too much time is spent with Mr. Murphy, a mildly amusing side character. Sometimes scenes go on for too long. In particular, an extended early exchange between the show’s two female characters created a murmur in the audience over whether someone had missed an entrance. With these and similar improvements, the show has a shot at the mainstream.