'Zombies from the Beyond'
Performances continue at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 28 at Circuit Playhouse, 51 South Cooper. Tickets are $22-$40. Call 901-726-4656.
Creepy, kooky cult musicals aren't in short supply, and it doesn't seem all that difficult to come up with an idea for one. A tabloid headline was the inspiration for "Batboy, the Musical." Combine the cantina scene from "Star Wars" with disco music and you've got "Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens."
The ultimate treasure trove of ideas, however, comes from the B-movies of the 1950s. From nuclear radiation to alien invasion, all sorts of bad things were out there, just waiting to turn us into mutants or take away our precious freedom.
Now running at Circuit Playhouse, the cartoonish "Zombies from the Beyond" evokes those scary, uncertain times when Americans spent their nights searching the skies for signs of doom.
What we did not imagine was that on a faraway planet, a catastrophe wiped out the males, and all the females became zombies. In an attempt to repopulate her race, an alien queen, Zombina, has traveled in her spacemobile to Earth to kidnap men and turn them into mindless, bug-eyed breeders.
At the Milwaukee Space Center, Major Malone, played by John Hemphill, looks to his trusted advisers for answers. The rocket scientist Trenton (Colin Morgan) mumbles technical jargon through the stem of his pipe. The gung ho military man, Rick, wants to confront the incoming alien craft, which happens to choose a beauty salon as its landing site. By far, Stephen Garrett makes Rick the funniest role in the show — creepy, two-faced, with a delivery that recalls Will Ferrell at his best.
The Major's daughter Mary (Eileen Peterson) is smarter than she lets on, and the love-starved Charlene (Noby Edwards) is a secretary with a crush on a tap-dancing delivery boy (Richie MacLeod). Zombina's secret weapon — her voice — also happens to be the forte of actress Emily Draffen, who manages to hit some hysterically high notes.
Director Ann Marie Hall has put her usual comic touches on this 1995 off-Broadway hit, though the technical direction could have better captured the spirit of old movies. Instead, the actors look as though they have stumbled into a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. If the aim is to riff on Sputnik-era space paranoia as imagined in low-budget films, it would have been nice if "Zombies" looked and felt more like a B-movie.
"Zombies from the Beyond" doesn't generate the cultish flavor one craves in a spoof of invasion films. But it has its moments. Again, you can't ignore the "Zombies" in the title.