Sometimes a cast of gifted actors can save a weak musical, and the performers in this Odyssey world premiere knock themselves out to make their show a lively and enjoyable experience. They occasionally succeed, but this loose reworking of Jack Finney’s sci-fi classic “The Body Snatchers,” which became a surprise B-picture milestone in 1956, is bogged down by a scattered and unfocused book. The score is at best briskly energetic and at worst a succession of songs that fail to further plot or characterization.
Show gets off to a promising start with the presence of pianist-singer J Michael. A charismatic figure in black vest and red boots, Michael warms up the crowd with his opening speech and standout vocals. From there, a lineup of ludicrous characters clutter the Mill Valley landscape, including soft-porn actress Becky (DeLee Lively), perpetually horny doctor Miles (Eric Eichenberger) and a pair of sex-obsessed lovers, Jack (Clinton Derricks-Carroll) and Theodora (Michele Mais).
The central plot gimmick has to do with pods replacing people and robbing them of emotion, so it’s irritating that the first act dotes on dozens of superfluous subplots without building a bit of tension. We’re told that the townspeople are suffering from mass hysteria and anxiety, but there’s never a second they seem in genuine danger, and when pods and people fill the stage, they’re virtually interchangeable. All this is resolved with a contrived “love is the answer” conclusion that has nothing to do with Jack Finney’s powerful vision of lost identity.
Director Thomas W. Jones II is determined to drum up excitement, and he makes the mistake of having his entire cast onstage nearly all the time. We’re bombarded with overlapping vocals and harmonies, which often makes it difficult to hear Bob Lesoine and Ed Howard’s lyrics. It’s a relief when the production’s few ballads cut through the cacophony and allow us to relax.
Jones is more successful when he gives his performers comic attitudes, and they make the most of corny, puerile references to Viagra, bisexuality, the size of African-American sex organs and some inevitable bathroom humor.
A few bright spots hint at the show this might have been. Lively’s Becky, after waking from a night of sexual bliss, breaks into a comically klutzy ballet that unveils a sparkling flair for physical humor. Mais reveals a sensational voice on “You Are Incredible,” her duet with the equally talented Derricks-Carroll, and Eichenberger is a first-rate clown, always rising above the junior high-level quips he’s obliged to deliver. Uki Amaechi, T.C. Carson, Dani Shear and Stacy Sibley contribute vigorous vocals. William Knight is an excellent actor, but he’s saddled with an unpleasant, curmudgeonly character that could just as easily have been omitted.
The songs are described as a combination of bebop, hip-hop, jazz, gospel and pop, and this smorgasbord of styles may account for the lack of any memorable melodies. J Michael’s orchestrations give the tunes vibrancy and color, and Patdro Harris’ choreography has a robust athleticism, especially when the performers explode into karate moves. Jaret Sacrey and Adam Gascoine have devised a set of platforms that aid the actors in their frenetic, nonstop activity.