Aliens Coming, a new musical at the Peoples Improv Theater, is a comedic take on low-budget sci-fi movies with a blatant naughty streak. The plot is pulled from some of the best/worst episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with some modern touches, and it centers on two teenage girls, Brandi and Clementine, who are about to graduate from high school. They have been best friends since they were kids, but Clementine’s interest in art (and the “cool art kids” culture) is pulling them in different directions. When Brandi is abducted, however, Clementine sets out to save Brandi and the world’s genitals from a prudish alien race. Along the way, Clementine finds herself and loses her virginity, and Brandi becomes a YouTube make-up tutorial star. Really, it’s a typical coming-of-age tale of friendship and following your dreams. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
There are a surprising number of successful musicals inspired by B-movies, like Little Shop of Horrors, Bat Boy, and The Toxic Avenger. Aliens Coming is aimed squarely at that audience with big goofy music numbers and broad laughs. The cast has several stand-out performances, like Maia Scalia channeling Kimmy Gibbler as Brandi and Andrew L. Ricci as the schlubby, oh-buddy Smib. Jonathan Evans’ music is catchy and upbeat – if not very memorable – and Joe Kelly’s script does earn some laughs, especially a lyric about the personal sacrifice of choosing state school.
I like Aliens Coming. It plays well to a friendly, slightly tipsy late-night crowd at the PIT, and the big laugh lines were hitting at my performance. However, Aliens Coming still has some work to do before it can stand alongside shows like Little Shop of Horrors or Bat Boy. The characters are written rather thin, and I wasn’t emotionally invested in most of the relationships, which is a problem when the main plot hangs on Brandi and Clementine’s friendship. Is it necessary for this kind of comedy to have deep characters? No, but if the writer takes the time and care to make these characters distinctive and memorable – even if they are archetypes – it can make the difference between a Zooby Doober and an Orin Scrivello, D.D.S.
My other main complaint with Aliens Coming is the death of a major character near the end of the show. Besides coming out of nowhere, it falls into the troubling trend of introducing an LGBT character and then killing off that character. The plot line also didn’t require the character’s death, so hopefully it will be changed in future versions.
Fortunately, I think that the cast is one of the show’s real strengths, and they seem up to the task of filling out these B-movie stock characters. With some rewrites and reworking of the script, Aliens Coming could take a step up from a fringe festival oddity to a possible cult classic.
Aliens Coming is playing at the PIT on Monday, September 18 at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $10 and available for purchase online here.