By Roy Berko
As audience members smilingly walked out of Blank Canvas’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL! covered with spatterings of stage blood, I could only think that something appears to have gone off-course in Cleveland theatre. On stage at local venues are the blood revenge musical, SWEENEY TODD, as well as the story of the maniacal murderous RICHARD III. Then there is the burning up of a boy and the live burial of his mother in LILIES at convergence continuum. Now, I had just seen a psycho killer who uses a chainsaw, knives, hammers and baseball bats to bludgeon his victims. Victims who sing gleefully about their demise.
I know it’s just before Halloween, but things are getting excessively morbid and bizarre.
Cary Bytof and Christopher Minori’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL! is a parody of the cult classic horror film, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
As director Patrick Ciamacco explains, ”In the musical, Eddy Gee has been tormenting the residents of Plainfield, Texas since he was a child. After killing his mother, Eddy snaps and goes on a rampage, but things get problematic when he falls in love with one of his intended victims. Over-the-top humor, absurd but authentic characters, and catchy tunes lead us through the lives of the four main characters as they trip over each other toward an unexpected and shocking ending.”
Just the titles of the songs reveal the depths of creative depravity that takes place on stage. Songs such as, “Your Son is Very Strange,” “Steven the Pantywaist Runt,” “Let’s Hear You Scream,” “Easy to Be Cruel,” and “Cold Cuts.”
A reading of the authors’ bios explains their weird sense of life, its lessons, and why they are the perfect duo to have written this bizarre script. Bytof explains, “Born a pauper in Appleton, Wisconsin, to an upper middle-class family, I moved to Florida and embarked on a long, painful journey of beatings and humiliation at the hands of my schoolmates, as well as the little girl down the block.” Minori states, “I have displayed many different talents, including being an unemployed actor, unsuccessful director, frustrated writer, and scantily clad carwash employee (on weekends).”
To truly appreciate Blank Canvas’s production, an understanding of director Patrick Ciamacco is helpful. Ciamacco founded Blank Canvas on the back of his limited credit card, a small gaggle of volunteers, in a setting that is almost impossible to find, and where a previous theatre had failed. Due to his creativity and acting skills, the theatre has gained positive reviews, awards, a cadre of followers, and is actually thriving.
As for this show, the cast is generally good, the singing is adequate, the band plays so loudly that it is often difficult to hear the words, the actors are wearing mikes but sometimes can’t be understood. Most importantly, the production is a hoot.
Perren Hedderson (Eddy), has a big voice, which, after he kills his mother is used to sing the very funny “Lullaby to Momma.” Kate Leigh Michalski (Eddy’s equally blood thirsty girl friend, Lucretia) wails “Paradise Lost” when she realizes Eddy has fallen in love/lust with the innocent air-headed Kristy. Eric Thomas Fancher often sings on key as the nerdy Eddy, who has a crush on Kristy and follows her to Plainfield, with shocking results. He does a nice version of the pretty “Lullaby to Kristy.” Leslie Andrews makes for one swinging nun and rattles the rafters in “The Gospel According to Steven.”
The audience was laughing throughout, even those who were soaked with the fake blood. BTW…yes, the first two rows, stage center and right, are marked off as the blood spatter zones, but, even in the third row, the female theatre reviewer sitting next to me had a red streaked face by intermission and her husband’s tan pants had red polka-dots. But, getting spattered is part of the fun. Ask the couple who came in just as the lights were going up for the first act, sat in the front row, and were startled when they got hit by a blood bath a few seconds later. They were totally soaked by intermission and laughed all the way to the bathroom to clean up.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL is a fun evening of theatre, as long as you have a sense of humor, aren’t uptight and appreciate absurdity. Others better stay away! Me, I kept asking myself, “Why am I laughing hysterically at all this gore?” The answer? The whole thing was just so bizarre and the epitome of well done farce!
There will be a special midnight show on October 26 and a Halloween show on October 31.
Blank Canvas’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL! runs though November 2, 2013 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. Get directions to the theatre on the website. (My GPS was of little help). Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space. It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to http://blankcanvastheatre.com.
Roy Berko is a member of The American Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle and Dance Critics Association. He is a college professor of communication and psychology, author of thirty-one books, and a life coach. His reviews and commentaries can be found on ArtsAmerica.org, BroadwayWorld.com, NEohioPAL and CoolCleveland.com and on his popular blog, http://RoyBerko.info.