nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
September 17, 2008
The sci-fi pop rock musical is alive and kicking in Bedbugs!!!, a glitzy, pumped-up new production in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It's 1989, and adorable young Carly loves her mom, and she loves French Canadian chanteuse Dionne Salon. Suddenly, her world is turned upside down when mom is tragically killed in a freak accident involving bedbugs. Carly dedicates her life to avenging her mother's death; 23 years later she's a New York City exterminator close to perfecting a lethal formula that will wipe out bedbugs once and for all.
Carly's plan backfires when her chemical concoction actually mutates the bedbugs into human-sized killers (with makeup and teased hair) looking to take over the world. When Cimex, the leader of the mutant bedbugs, learns the identity of Carly as their "creator," he seduces her into becoming his queen. The bedbugs want to eat their way to the top, and the very existence of the human race is suddenly in jeopardy. Luckily, singing idol Salon happens to be in town to do a benefit concert. Can Carly's assistant Burt and Salon help Carly save the world in time?
There are no subtleties here, and the silliness quotient is in overdrive. The messages are minimal, even for a musical (don't act out in anger, or maybe, go organic). But that's certainly not the point. The play rocks hard. And often.
Fred Sauter and Paul Leschen have succeeded in creating catchy but original songs based on the style of a different time period. There's a heavy helping of familiar sounding pop hooks. And there's an unspoken tribute to many artists. We can hear Stevie Nicks, Heart, Queen, and the gaudy work of composer/arranger Jim Steinman.
Sauter's script wastes absolutely no time in getting to the action. Carly is feverishly working in her lab, still angry over her mother's death many years ago. From there the story plows through with Dionne Salon's plight as a subplot. Some of the plot elements are choppy with leaps in logic, and some of the characters could be better developed.
To have a musical comedy based on bedbugs is no easy task. Even with the recent infestation in New York, little is known about the nocturnal insects except for that popular adage. Aside from wanting to eat humans (and sing and dance), there's little these bedbugs do. They might have some vaguely unresolved Oedipal issues.
Like Cimex's hair in the show, the jokes are delivered big and sometimes miss their mark. And the clichéd gay humor borders on sophomoric.
But this is a musical and with well over a dozen fun songs from rockers to ballads, the play is a good fun.
Director Samuel Buggeln has created a ruckus; a fluid environment with little breathing room.The synth-punchy numbers are extremely enjoyable and choreographed back-up singing is terrific. And the play is aware enough to wink at itself.
As expected, this rock musical is loud and the overall feel can be overpowering, primarily because the acting is also loud. The scene-chewing characterizations can grow a little wearing at times. There are a few moments when things get muddled, especially when there's dialogue over the music.
The play cashes in on the endless obsession with '80s nostalgia that permeates American pop culture. And it's not clear why all the music in the production is in this style when the play actually takes place in 2012. If '80s pop culture is one of your guilty pleasures, you'll love this show.
Celina Carvajal kicks musical theatre butt as the heroine Carly. She instantly morphs from Young Carly to adult Carly to Bedbug Goddess. She has a great rock and roll voice and star power to burn. Chris Hall struts, clucks and snarls as Cimex, in a classic homage to glam rock excess. He is an '80s rock and roll god. Brian Charles Rooney's earnest portrayal of Dionne Salon is also a pleasure to watch. He hits every note, musical and comedic, never overdoing an act that could easily grow tired or campy. Everyone is ably assisted by a terrific band.
Christina Rumery and Amanda Bujak have done a wonderful job costuming the production from the bedbugs and Cinex's hair metal rock persona to Dionne Salon's outfits.
There are many highlights:Carvajal singing the funny rock ballad "Silent Spring"; the terrific duet "He Pierced Me" between Carly and Burt, complete with an old school Sugarhill Gang style rap. One of the great pleasures of the show is hearing the excessive vocal gymnastics of the singers.
Do yourself right and let these bedbugs bite.