The authors of 2000’s satirical hit “Up the Week Without a Paddle” (book by Lauren Bowles and Lauren Cohn, lyrics by Amanda Green, music by Curtis Moore) have mounted another musical spoof, but this time they’re up the creek artistically. Their new production at the Powerhouse Theater raises audience expectations with an extended, witty prologue, then fragments before our eyes into a jumble of incoherent skits that dip, then dive steadily downhill.
The plot kicks off in 1953, when Edna Crumb (Jodi Harris) is born without vocal cords and her parents hardly have time to love her before a truck demolishes them on the freeway. Poor Edna, a pitiable figure in pristine white, is pushed around by vicious peers, until devilish Diablo Skeezix (Christopher Shea) offers her a voice in exchange for her soul.
Edna discovers that the only way to keep her new pipes and stop Diablo from stealing her soul is to perform three near-impossible tasks: find the cloak of a fire-breathing dragon, the skates of a Nubian girl and the milky secretions of a fascist prince.
The first two are accomplished in a manner so contrived as to defy recounting, and the third spotlights Edna and Diablo competing to collect the semen of Phallex (Eric Meyersfield). This excruciating vignette represents the height of “Primetime’s” wit.
A few performers triumph over the lopsided book (with story credited, amazingly, to five people). Jodi Harris displays wide-eyed innocence, ingratiating honesty and a lilting voice, and directors Patrick Fischler and John Langs make the most of her uniquely appealing qualities. Equally notable is Christopher Shea’s devil. When Shea strides onstage with chalky complexion, singing euphorically about drugs and whores and wheeling a carriage filled with bras and underwear, he creates a slick Satan for Harris to play against.
The Amanda Green-Curtis Moore songs have sparks of cleverness, but rarely explode. “Inside Voice/Outside Voice,” in which a trio of waitresses urge Edna to bite her tongue before sassing her boss, is caustic and catchy, but “Perfect Day,” sung by Michelle Azar, is pure filler, and “When You’ve Been Touched Down There” provides a high school freshman’s idea of risque.
“It’s Kinda Like,” a duet between Edna and Phallex that’s the show’s most melodic tune, is memorable — far superior to the closer, “TV Is Real Enough for Me,” which sputters when it should soar.
Takeoffs of television programs seem almost unrelated to the shows they’re supposed to parody. Cast members attack their numbers so wholeheartedly that they succeed in disguising their vocal limitations. Eric Meyersfield stands out in the ensemble. He dominates the opening and lights up the stage whenever he appears.
Technically, the production gains from Ilana Radin’s enormous television set, and Ellen Monocroussos’ lurid red lighting on Diablo is an inspired touch. Musicians Craig McLennan (piano), John Harvey (drums) and Joel Woods (bass) bring out the best in the score.