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Wild Planet

B-52’s-Based Musical Doesn’t Bomb

Tin Roof, Rusted: Amy Easton (center), vamps it up as a goth girl working at the love shack.

By Brennen Jensen | Posted 6/30/2004

Planet Claire: A Sci-Fi Go-Go Musical

Planet Claire: A Sci-Fi Go-Go Musical

At Theatre Project through July 10

“Planet Claire has pink air/ All the trees are red/ No one ever dies there/ No one has a head.”

Such are the lyrics to this musical’s namesake number, and it goes without saying that they portend an evening’s entertainment a little more outlandish than you’d get with a Hello, Dolly or an Annie Get Your Gun. Planet Claire: A Sci-Fi Go-Go Musical is the latest of what you might call “shoehorn musicals”—a conceit that takes a collection of heretofore unrelated pop songs from a single group and forces them into a cohesive theatrical narrative. Mama Mia! does it with Abba numbers, and the Frederick-based Maryland Ensemble Theatre does it here with the B52’s new wave goof pop. With songs concerning demonically possessed automobiles, celebrated crustaceans, strobe-light sex, and a dark green poodle, they have their work cut out for them. You gotta hold on, as the resulting book can be a bumpy ride at times. But in the end, the plucky ensemble largely carries it off, crafting a campy and colorful evening of go-go dancing, chartreuse wigs, dick jokes, and Wizard of Oz allusions set to an infectiously toe-tapping soundtrack served up by a five-piece band.

Our heroine is named Claire (Amy Easton), of course, and she works—where else?—at the Love Shack. Only this black-clad goth girl doesn’t fit in with shack’s tropical cabana theme. Even though Claire is boffing the Shack owner’s son, the weaselly Carl (Andrew Lloyd Baughman), she soon gets canned. (This is one of the book’s clunkier moments. At one point we’re lead to believe it’s Claire’s first day on the job; then the Shack owner gives an impassioned speech about how she’s his favorite employee. Huh, wha?)

Anyway, Claire is consoled by her pals, the swishy Buzz (Zane Oberholzer, making Paul Lynde seem like Clint Eastwood) and Annie (Gené Fouché). A pot-fueled auto trip—cue “Devil in My Car”—ends in a wreck, and for Claire a trip to Topaz, an otherworldly parallel universe (cue the Oz allusions). Here Carl is King L-Rok, sporting a pompadour that would make Elvis blush, and Buzz is the still-Nellie Zub, who’s lost his beloved dog (cue “Quiche Lorraine”). What unfolds is a love story both flimsy and unfathomable—or, in other words, perfect musical material.

A large ensemble joins in on the song-and-dance numbers (such as “Dance This Mess Around” and “Roam”). The hoofers are all shapes and sizes, and the diversity calls to mind productions served up by Baltimore’s Fluid Movement troupe. But while Fluid Movement playfully wears its rank amateurism on its sleeve, these Frederick folks are well-voiced and the numbers (choreographed by Julie Herber with the author directing) pretty polished. A Greek chorus of sorts appears between set changes to fill in some of the story. (Alas, this might be a step too far in a show already teetering on the outer edge. And it’s hard to hear what they’re reciting sometimes.)

Naturally the costumes present a kaleidoscope of color and high-camp chaos. (A wardrobe recipe might go like this: one part drag queen, one part glam rocker, one part circus clown; stir.) The band, meanwhile, does a credible job with the B-52’s surfy/funky tunes. (It’s kinda funny to see the somewhat older cat on guitar reading the chart off a music stand.) While the B-52’s were made up of mostly nonmusicians who got together as a lark, here their numbers are given the reverence of a Cole Porter score. Oberholzer has the job of re-creating Fred Schneider’s flat, atonal bark—which he does with greater musicality while staying true to the trademark sound. Easton and Baughman have decent pipes, too.

And so the moral is, why write a new musical when you can build one out of old material? Mama Mia! has made millions, and press materials for Planet Claire hint at national interest in a B-52’s show. Good for our friends up in Frederick. However, I’m a little gun-shy of this whole shoehorn musical thing.

What’s to fear? I have five words for you: Mr. Roboto: A Styx Musical.

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