Putting “Barbarella” onstage with a score by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics sounded tantalizing enough, but maybe I was just having an acid flashback from the first time I saw the movie. The musical version of Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi camp-fest, remembered best for Jane Fonda’s zero-gravity striptease, crash-landed at Vienna’s Raimund Theater in a cheesy, awkward production by Kim Duddy.
Actually, the show’s creators point out the musical is based not on the film, but on the 1962 comicbook by Jean-Claude Forest that inspired the movie. Whatever. It doesn’t play. Without benefit of hallucinogenics, the adventures of Barbarella in the 40th century are a 21st-century bore.
Just as the comic was fluffed out for the film, it has been re-fluffed for the stage, this time by adding a framework in which Barbarella, aping Lara Croft, is the star of a video game. The system crashes, her crew is stranded and she enters virtual reality to save them, providing an excuse for “Barbarella Superstar,” which bears a curious resemblance to another musical theater “Superstar.”
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The potential for a fun fantasia along the lines of “The Rocky Horror Show” is destroyed by Rudi Klausnitzer’s hopelessly juvenile book and lyrics. Since there’s not enough plot to fill a two-hour show, we get a disjointed series of vignettes with some gratuitous soft-core porn tossed in. Played faux-naïve in an attempt at camp, dialogue lifted verbatim from the comic is merely uncomfortable and astoundingly unfunny.
Certainly Stewart can’t be faulted, but after writing 200 songs in collaboration with Annie Lennox, the only direction to go is down. Stewart tries so hard to make the show work you can feel him struggling to find a way around the inept words tossed in his path by Klausnitzer. There is no cohesion, no stylistic heart to hold the show together. The songs bounce from an unabashed Cole Porter ripoff and salutes to glam rock to ’80s-style power ballads.
Still, it is tough to leave the theater without a song in your head: the soul ballad “An Angel Has No Memory,” the Black Queen’s thrashing hard-rock “Welcome to My World,” or Victor the Robot’s show-stopping “I Want to Be Like Fred Astaire.”
Looking even yummier than Fonda as the eponymous heroine, Nina Proll is onstage for almost the entire show, and you have to admire her energy and dedication: She wants so badly for us to have a good time, but she hasn’t been given the resources to give it to us.
More successful is Eva Maria Marold as the audacious Black Queen. With benefit of the best music, the best lines and the best costumes, she stomps her thigh-high stiletto-heeled patent leather boots over anyone unfortunate enough to be onstage with her.
Male characters barely exist, but adorable Andreas Bieber scores big in Victor’s production number, tap-dancing up a staircase in a robot suit. In a dual role, Drew Sarich shows a solid voice as Sun, but his shrieking falsetto as the androgynous Master Locksmith is mighty unpleasant.
All the dry ice, lasers and video projections in the world can’t mask Mark Fisher’s bargain-basement sets, and Duddy’s unison choreography belongs in an aerobics class. Only the bodacious costumes by Patricia Field and David Dalrymple give the show some much-needed dazzle.
“Barbarella” aspires to cult-classic status, but errs too greatly on the side of caution: It wants to be over-the-top, but as much as it stretches, it can’t quite get there.