Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Head! That Wouldn’t Die!

From left: Maxwell Schelling, John Serembe, Heather Christopher and Jesse Moore-Hendrickson
Theater Artists Olympia’s original musical The Head! That Wouldn’t Die! is the love child of Mel Brooks and Ed Wood with midwifery by Pug Bujeaud. In other words, it is exactly what expect by the homegrown theater company that brought you The Brain from Planet X, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Cannibal!! The Musical (twice). But this show elevates B-movie musical camp to a level far above those earlier TAO shows. Maybe those were mere warmups through which they learned how to do it.
The Head! That Wouldn’t Die! is based on the horror film of the same name (also known as The Brain That Wouldn’t Die) which garnered a lowly 28 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bujeaud adapted it for the stage with input from the TAO Collective and added music—quite nicely so, I might say, especially considering that she has never written music or lyrics. She is also the director.
John Serembe, Vanessa Postil and Xander Layden
Reflecting back on my reference to Mel Brooks, the similarities to Brooks’ Young Frankenstein are obvious, and this show is every bit as good as YF, minus the expensive sets and special effects, which TAO handles in a much cheaper but highly effective way.
Dr. Bill Cortner (Xander Layden) is a mad scientist who has been secretly working for some time now on experiments in transplanting body parts. His father, the elder Dr. Cortner (John Serembe), a notorious womanizer, warns him against going too far in his reckless experimentation. Bill, by-the-way, is not a very good driver. His driving may be even more reckless than his doctoring; it’s already killed one girlfriend and now he’s taking Deadman’s Curve far too fast with his new girlfriend, Jan (Vanessa Postil) in the car. But that’s all I’m going to say about the plot. No spoilers here.
Vanessa Postil and Xander Layden
Suffice it to say this show is uproariously funny, and there is a lot of damn good music from the big-musical opening, “Head” to the premonition of danger in “Deadman’s Curve” to a wild country song called “Abilene” sung by Serembe in his other role as Kevin, of whom I shall say nothing, nothing, nothing. Believe me: you don’t want to know about Kevin. There are also a couple of serious and lovely songs providing release from all the seriousness—beautiful songs like “Kurt’s Lament” sung by Jesse Moore-Hendrickson and Cassandra’s beautiful “Hope” sung by Heather Christopher.
The entire cast is outstanding. Layden seems to have been born to play Bill Cortner. His outsized expressions and movements are comic gems, and Postil’s portrayal of Jan in the Pan is the best acting I’ve yet to see from her. Moore-Hendrickson is a recent graduate from Cornish College making his TAO debut in this show. He’s a terrific singer and portrays the doctor’s assistant, Kurt with style. The multi-dimensional Kurt (a kind of matinee-idol version of Igor) idolizes yet fears the mad doctor and falls in love with the Head.
And there is Serembe, a veteran actor who has appeared in major productions all over the country and in favorite TV shows such as “Cheers” and “Scrubs,” in what must be his first performance in Olympia. I have certainly never seen him, and he flat-out blew me away. Seeing him in the little fringe show in the tiny Midnight Sun was something like if Tim Conway or Marty Feldman made a surprise appearance and took over the show — he’s a pro and he never upstages the other actors.
Finally, I must give props to whatever otherworldly creature is responsible for costumes and makeup. The program lists Ornatrix Couture as costumer; I suspect that’s a pseudonym. Fellow critic Christian Carvajal credited burlesque star Nani Poonani, and a program note from Bujeaud indicated that Morgan Picton was responsible for creating the look of “the monster.”
The entire cast and crew outdid themselves.
Seating is limited, so I recommend you get tickets quickly.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. through Dec. 20 and at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 21, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. Tickets: $15.00 ($16.52 with service fee at brownpapertickets. Available at door night of show or online at brownpapertickets.com

Photos by Matt Ackerman

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