It Came from Beyond, the charming new comic musical making its Off-Broadway debut at St. Luke’s Theatre, boasts an excellent cast with strong voices. Sharp direction and choreography enliven its tuneful, adventurous music, and taut construction – too rare in new musicals – makes it more than a collection of individual talents. Tight writing is especially needed in a story that, City of Angels-like, careens between parallel worlds.
Crystal-voiced Clint Hromsco, whom I was happy to see in a more solid context than last year’s shaky Lili Marlene, plays science-nerd Harold in this homage to 1950s kitsch sci-fi and Cold War nostalgia, with a book by Cornell Christianson and music by Stephen Michael Schwartz and Norman Evan Thalheimer. We find Harold cowering before bully Steve (Bryan S. Walton), even as science teacher Mr. Fielding (David R. Doumeng) forces them to collaborate on Harold’s innovative science project. But though the show’s characters unashamedly fulfill their stereotypes, they also grow deeper as the fun blooms and the tension in the twin stories mounts.
Harold fatefully captures the attention of Becky (played with smooth Disney Princess charm by Kayleen Seidl), Steve’s girlfriend and Mr. Fielding’s daughter, with an alien-invasion comic book whose characters mysteriously parallel our high school heroes. In fact, echoes abound. Mean Steve becomes sinister in the comic book story. A budding romance between Mr. Fielding and cooking teacher Ms. Benson (Kaitlyn Baldwin) – I don’t believe “Ms.” was in common use in the ’50s, but never mind – matches up with an affair between their counterparts in the sci-fi world. And so on.
Fast, clever lighting cues help manifest the rapid shifts between worlds, but it’s the instant character changes that make these zigzags truly entertaining. Doumeng bounces between Mr. Fielding’s Jerry Lewis-style sensitive-nerd persona and a jingoistic Colonel’s imperturbable and oblivious military bearing. Baldwin is brilliant as both the buttoned-up, secretly horny Benson and the unapologetically and hysterically vampy Private Jayne; her comic bits shine like rhinestones on an already fancy, if adorably outdated, outfit. And Harold’s science project becomes Earth’s last defense against the alien invaders, whose plot to turn humanity into zombie-like “receptacles” is depicted with delightful campiness.
The story also resonates with modern times. Comically, but with little exaggeration, it depicts postwar American exceptionalism: “It’s an American world, and that’s the way it’ll stay” sings the company in “American Way,” the most ironic of the show’s numerous catchy numbers. The Colonel sees only red – any threat, even if it’s clearly extraterrestrial, must be from “commies.” Vera, a computer with an attitude (a delightfully perky Natalie Michaels), comically nods toward advances in artificial intelligence that engineers of the 1950s could only dream of (and maybe also towards Karen the Computer in Broadway’s Spongebob Squarepants musical a few blocks away).
The strong voices sometimes overwhelm the pre-recorded music. Live musicians would give the show a more organic flavor, but it’s hard to fault producers with minimal budgets and limited facilities. My only real beef is the occasional use of recorded background vocals. The company sings high-powered, multi-part harmonies so strongly that the voices on the pre-recorded tracks sound flimsy in comparison and detract occasionally from the show’s boisterously meaty presence.
It Came from Beyond is a happy marriage of clever nostalgia, shiny new music, and sheer fun for just about any age (its sexual innuendo is broad and harmless). It runs Tuesdays through July 24 at St. Luke’s Theatre. For tickets visit Telecharge or call (212) 239-6200.