Characters in musicals break out into song when they cannot contain their feelings any longer, when they are experiencing such overwhelming passion that an eruption of music is the only way to accurately convey the depth of emotion they are experiencing.
According to The Snuff Musical, when are emotions the most passionate? Why, right before death!
The Snuff Musical tells the tale of a writer/director team (Josh Kemper and Amanda Spellman) who conspire to turn a gritty snuff film into a dazzling musical . . . with some hiccups along the way. Enter, a rubber-gloved villain (PJ Mitchell), a jilted actress (Shatera Hillyer), an oblivious but charming leading lady (Leslie Vincent), and a dashing but insecure leading man (Andrew Morstein).
Before the show even starts, the audience is drawn into the mood of the play. A steep set of concrete steps leads up to a dusty hallway with mismatched chairs sitting abandoned and forlorn. The walls of the theatre are splattered with dark paint streaks which stand in stark contrast to the white flats that form the upstage wall. The physical surroundings, coupled with piped-in, peppy showstoppers from current Broadway musicals, effectively prime the audience for the dark, macabre musical about to begin.
The cast takes a bit to accelerate into full-swing, but once they hit the second number, “Another Boy Meets Girl”, the show really clicks. Expertly staged by director Derek T. Pickens, this number has the cast peering out into the audience as if watching the snuff film. Sparse but genuine musical narration by Morstein is augmented by the reactions of the other cast members as we watch through their eyes as the gruesome “snuff” is committed.
A monumental stand out is Leslie Vincent as small-town Kelly Kincaid—the virginal ingénue. Intertwining awkward sexual references to her almost assuredly abusive uncle with brazen demands for an all-white dressing room, Vincent steals the show, and when she’s not onstage, you long for her to come back. Lighting Designer Cory Whitfield completes her look with well-timed, reoccurring pink light cues just for her.
The Snuff Musical
by Michael Martin
at Fort Fringe – Redrum
612 L Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Next to Vincent, other performances pale, although each cast member has succeeded in creating a distinct, interesting character. Mitchell’s accented Panamanian villain with a penchant for musical theatre is endearing if a bit one note, and Morstein charms as the dense but honestly well-meaning Hunter. Spellman’s impressive rich belt , first revealed in “Go Into the Light,” leaves little doubt about her abilities and cements her character as a confident, capable woman with some serious fire.
One of the most challenging aspects of this production is the uneven quality of composer Michael Martin’s music. Some songs, “Another Boy Meets Girl,” “Go Into the Light, Kelly Kinkaid,” and “All About Me” are standouts—drawing the audience in with interesting riffs and lyrics. But many others set up an interesting musical premise and then beat it to death with too many repetitive verses. Audiences will have a hard time picking up a hummable tune in the show. In addition, spoken scenes occasionally drag on unnecessarily; thankfully, the cast is always quick to bring the audience back with an oral sex joke or a witty one-liner about desperate tenors.
The Snuff Musical has some pretty morbid source material, and yet, when the cast sings about “finding the love” in every story (even one about kidnapping and murder), the audience can’t help but tap their toes in time. This show, by unabashedly mocking the recent rash of Broadway musicals based on movies and reworking tired stereotypes, encourages us all to dig a little deeper for our entertainment.
So come on, open up your heart (“or some other vital part”) and go see a musical based on a movie about killing someone.