Take one part “Mork & Mindy”, one part “Laugh In”, and all parts ridiculous, campy fun…mix and bake until Planet Claire: A Sci-Fi Go-Go Musical evolves. This show perfectly captures the zaniness of the 60s in all of its goofy glory.
MET has re-staged its popular show from 2004, utilizing many original cast members. The result is fantastic…everywhere you look is a vivid, creative hodgepodge of colors, shapes and sounds. You can almost smell Planet Topaz…and it smells insanely good.
Set to the music of the immortally funky B-52’s, the show revolves around a tiki themed restaurant with non-comformist waitress, Claire, who insists on showing up in “inappropriate” theme attire. Namely, she’s more Skid Row Barbie than Malibu. Add the owner’s kids, the son who feels Claire up in the alley but won’t defend her in public, and his sister who has an unhealthy interest in her brother’s romantic liaisons, and there’s a tense situation. When Claire is fired for her rebellious ways, her loyal friends and coworkers, Buzz & Annie, quit with her and embark on a road trip that ends in a peculiar way.
Claire wakes up in a bizarre universe complete with aliens who find her much cooler than anyone on her own planet ever has. Everyone is outrageously different yet, strangely familiar. Claire needs to find her own voice, and decide if life is better in this outlandish, accepting world or on Earth.
Claire is played with just the right note of cool, tough detachment and gorgeous grittiness by Amy Baughman. A skilled dancer and singer, it’s only a shame that Baughman doesn’t have more of an opportunity to sing and show off her powerful Broadway belt. She does get a few terrific moments to display her comedic timing and deadpan precision.
Matt Baughman plays her gay BFF Buzz (and Zubb) with equal dexterity. Baughman has many of the B-52’s signature songs to himself, and he doesn’t disappoint. Whether emulating Fred Schneider’s silky “Knock a little louder, baby”, or waxing rhapsodic about his wayward weiner, “Quiche Lorraine”, Baughman never fails to find the right note of legitimate talent and unadulterated ham. His voice is solid and clear and becomes whatever it needs to be at the time.
Clay Comer often plays the preposterous leading man, all exaggerated expressions and larger than life moves…and he does it with aplomb. His rich baritone is legit, and his patented wiggle elicited groans and giggles from the audience.
Gene Fouche plays best friend Annie/Eena with quiet assurance. She has a brilliant moment when Claire hugs her, a new experience, and the grin that lights up her face and shines moonbeams all over the stage.
The group numbers featured interesting (befitting the 60s) choreography (Julie Herber) that not everyone quite mastered, but that only added to the show’s overall awkward charm. It’s that classic story about the misfits and the cool kids, and trying to find oneself. Trust me-it never, ever takes itself too seriously, and there’s no heavy handed moral or hidden message in this show…it’s pure entertainment.
The ensemble overall was very strong, with a level of energy that remained consistently high throughout the night. The costumes (Julie Herber & Sherry Shaner) were so perfect-an overwhelming ocean of psychadelic colors, and fabulous fabrics…gold lame and spandex, stretch plastics and velveteen, fur and glitter. The props by Milee McDonald (the DOG! The dog deserved his own program credit!) were awesome. The attention to detail here helped propel the show from really good to really great. The best thing? The cast was having as much fun as the audience, and that kind of joy is hard to find these days.
A real standout was Karen Paone, whose powerhouse voice cut through the chorus with laser accuracy.
The Greek Chorus added just enough sci fi weirdness to bring everything all together. Rona Mensah was the lead “advisor” here and she gave a commanding presence to her role.
There were occasionally some difficulties with hearing the performers…despite the small space and body mics, the leads were occasionally overpowered by the wall of sound created by the ensemble and the excellent rock band playing up a storm behind the action. Conductor Anne Raugh keeps a brisk pace and there isn’t a beat missed by the musicians or the performers.
The set was pretty hip (Joann Lee & Diana Wright)…floor painted with neon flowers, mock up of a convertible, a curtain made of hula grass skirts, and then there are the pods…add the spot-on lighting (Tad Janes), and the sound effects (Steve Younkins)…all combine to make a solid gold production.
This is an extremely silly show. You’ll be hard pressed not to smile, even if you’re not a fan of the B-52’s. It’s a surreal experience you’ll be talking about for days afterwards.
Go on, have yourself a cream puff…Planet Claire is a get up and dance, clap your hands, scrumptious guilty pleasure that will leave you feeling light and satisfied.
Planet Claire: A Sci-Fi Go-Go Musical
Written by Tad Janes, Gene Fouche, & Tim King
Music by The B-52’s
Directed by Tad Janes
Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre
Reviewed by McCall Noelle Doyle
Planet Claire runs thru July 3, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.