The team that brought us the crazy-funny Bedbugs!!! returns with an outsized but not quite as raucously campy new musical, The Astronaut Love Show. No giant mutant bloodsuckers here: Instead we have three based-on-true stories of people who took the pursuit of love to extremes. And while, on the one hand, truth is stranger than fiction, creative imaginations can only extend so far when the tales are true. So while The Astronaut Love Show has great music, great energy, and a great cast, it’s somewhat hobbled in the second half by story arcs that fizzle out a bit.
Sauter (book and lyrics) and Leschen (music) deploy an armada of musical styles to suit the moods and milieus of their chosen tales – country-jazz, metal, techno, piano pop and more, with plenty of artful counterpoint and stirring multi-part harmonies. All six cast members are in excellent voice and plunge into their roles with gusto.
The show is something like what a larger-than-life musical version of a This American Life episode would be – except that one story is German, based on that of Armin Meiwes (here fictionalized as “Arvin”), the “Rotenburg Cannibal,” who killed and ate a willing victim in grisly fashion in 2001. Back in the States, we get the musicalized tale of astronaut Lisa Nowak (here “Leslie”), who drove 900 to attempt to kill a rival for a fellow astronaut’s affections, and an account of the exploits of Joyce McKinney (here “June”), who kidnapped a Mormon missionary for salacious purposes back in the 1970s and reappeared in the news many years later as an elderly lady who had cloned her beloved dog.
The theme “I won’t live with loneliness anymore,” stated in so many words at the start of the show, sets the tripartite action in motion. With her introductory number “Marry Me a Mormon,” a fabulous Samantha Stoltzfus channels Ethel Merman and Mae West to set up June’s story. Equally roof-shaking is Amber Martin, who plays Leslie to the comical max, in her early number “No Stopping.” Mark Rinzel is a much cooler cucumber with a fluid falsetto, equal parts funny and frightening as the obsessive yet weirdly sane-seeming Arvin, his smooth vocals highlighted in the sophisticated piano-pop of “Two Become One.”
Ross McCorkell plays all three love interests with effervescent energy, bringing them all together in a remarkable number near the end – one of several high-energy production numbers sprinkled through the show. Especially spectacular, in the context of small-stage bare-set creative magic, is a fantasy sequence of Leslie’s called “Constellation Man.”
All three protagonists converge for a big number called “When I Cross That Line,” which would be the obvious first-act closer if the show were to be expanded beyond its 100 minutes and turned into a two-acter.
Nick DeMatteo and Injoy Fountain play various supporting roles but get featured numbers as well, showing off their skills at first-class singing and broad comic stagecraft.
The narrative energy weakens in the second half, which becomes for a while more like a variety show or revue than an integral work of musical theater. Then the narrative revives with a big reveal, as Fountain, playing a police investigator, sings “What’s In Your Fridge?” setting up McCorkell’s three-headed number and the Finale.
My initial thought was that the structural weakness lay in the show’s conception. But it may be that the narrative energy could be strengthened by expanding some of the spoken dialogue scenes and perhaps rejiggering a few musical numbers to more consistently fuse the three stories. The show would need a bit of expansion to become a Broadway-worthy two-act musical anyway.
Sharply directed by John de los Santos, The Astronaut Love Show is well worth seeing for its great music, wacky stories, and fabulous cast. It’s at the Kraine Theater until November 22. Tickets and info are online.