“The Djinn,” a juvenile “rock and roll horror musical” receiving its premiere at Stages Theatre Center in Hollywood, tries awfully hard to be scary but isn’t, and tries even harder to be funny, with even less success. With a conceit as unrealized as the songs are badly sung, this piece makes “The Rocky Horror Show” seem like Shakespeare and Mozart rolled into one. On the bright side, the designs are effectively ghoulish and the running time is brief.
The music, lyrics and book are all written by Peter Atkins, whose credits include the screenplays for the “Hellraiser” sequels and “Wishmaster.” Here he’s trying to combine lots of different influences and genres — there’s plenty of Edward Gorey and a bit of vaudeville, a dash of Brecht and a heaping of Elvis, whom more than one performer seems to be trying to imitate during the songs, all a bland generic pop. This is all such a mishmash that even the premise is confusingly laid out.
The program, which is far more entertaining than the show, provides bios on a host of offbeat 19th and early 20th century performers, and the idea seems to be — emphasis on the “seems” because it really never becomes clear — that these dead actors are performing for us, and we are supposedly newly deceased arrivals to the afterlife.
The story that emerges is a formulaic tale: An evil genie, a “djinn” (Kevin Matthew Gregg), breaks free from the opal in which he’s been confined for centuries and begins killing folks and stealing their faces as he hunts down our heroine Alex (Jennifer Phinney), who must outsmart the djinn with her three wishes or the apocalypse will unfold.
The narrative proceeds in short blackout sequences and is hosted by two cockney-accented vaudevillians, Mr. Sponge and Mr. Scrotum (Dana Middleton and co-director Kate McLaughlin in well-designed costumes by Caro Moreno). “You’ll observe,” they sing at one point, “they squeeze us in/When the story’s gettin’ thin.” They’re onstage a lot. And theirs are the best scenes in the play, despite awkward writing and over-shouted delivery.