Recipe for distilling 1954’s 80-minute fishy horror yarn “Creature From the Black Lagoon” into a 30-minute Universal Studios theme park show: Trim off everything but the big action setpieces; liberally douse with spectacle and volume; and marinate thoroughly in great swaths of camp. Step two is the most successful by far — “Creature” really is an eye- and earful — while step three is cause for carping as the story slithers into a silly swamp.
The A-list talent team led by designer James Youmans creates a magical, star-filled Amazon environment as the feisty craft Rita skims along and rises with the tide, its doughty scientific team seeking living evidence of a prehistoric missing-link “gill man.” Proof isn’t long in coming as Gil (Matthew Ferrell at the perf reviewed; most roles are multicast) shows up to sniff around, now bespangled and sporting dreadlocks instead of vines but otherwise the classic marine menace.
Paul Rubin’s lyrical re-creation of the underwater pas de deux between Gil and va-va-voom ichthyologist Kay (Sandra Del Castillo) brings out pic’s Freudian undertones (all that water and those longing looks), beauty and beast suspended from moving tracks in an eye-popping exhibition of sexy synchronized swimming.
Matters rested there in 1954, but in 2009 things evidently have to get dopey. After initially bleating like a constipated Scooby-Doo, Gil suddenly grabs a mic to blast out heavy metal anthem “Prime Evil.” (The heavily miked tunes pulsate, while the lyrics, befitting the pedigree of “Forbidden Broadway’s” Gerard Alessandrini and Fred Barton, are clever to those who can make them out.)
Then the “tall, dark and salmon” Gil (to quote one of librettist Jonathan Tolins’ better gags) drags Kay down to his undersea grotto for a “Phantom”-like rendezvous.
You can’t blame her for accepting, what with nerdy b.f. David (Marc Dugan-Oka) and preening blond rival Mark (Chad Borden) stripping down to hot pants to become screaming Nellies that make Bruno seem butch. Along with Kay’s brazen vapidity, this trafficking in stereotypes seems oh-so-retro (dismaying from the progressive author of “Twilight of the Golds”), and while it may rock a liquored-up midnight house, it didn’t seem to grab the families at 4 p.m. on a Saturday.
In any event, Gil’s encounter with Mark’s manhood-enlargement cream wraps things up a la “Little Shop of Horrors,” one horror tuner that managed to skirt the boundary of camp without crossing into it.
Helmer-choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett earns kudos for the clever jungle dances and visual ping, while taking the rap for outrageousness run rampant. You don’t expect depth, but you’d like to root for those in a pickle, and that’s just tough to do.