Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fringe Spotlight: VICTORIAN COURTING & ZOMBIES, From Sketch Comedy To Musical Comedy

Sketch comedy morphs into musical comedy when Victorian Courting & Zombies hits this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Set in the Regency Period, the show follows the hapless and ill-fated Funktard sisters who have been left destitute and must marry off Elizabeth to a wealthy suitor. If only one of the suitors could look past the sisters’ facial defects, extra limbs, and miniscule dowry and love them for their brains. Their luck may turn around when Mr. Blubberbutt invites them to one of his famous balls and introduces them to an interesting fellow with a limp, a grunt, and an appetite for flesh.

Sounds like a Fringe-goer’s dream, right? So how did the show originate?

According to writer Susan Sassi, the idea originally started out as a sketch, and was just a fun parody exercise. “I have always loved Jane Austen novels and films,” she says. “Writing a short parody, poking fun at the courtship rituals of the period was easy and fun, but then it turned into something much bigger. The finished product has some very profound commentary on gender roles and societal expectations. 

The shorter version had a very successful performance as a UCB Spank Show and in the iO West Scripted Comedy Festival. We loved how it turned out and received so many great comments from audiences that we decided to expand it. Then, just before the Fringe deadline, my mom passed away. She was the person who inspired my love for musical theater and encouraged me to pursue acting and singing as a career. Music was her huge passion so I wanted to put up this show at the Fringe as a tribute to her memory.” 

As for why they chose zombies as the subject for the show she adds, “Zombies are very hot right now. Everyone loves zombies and I hear they kill at the Fringe, (pun may or may not have been intended)” she laughs. Our zombies are comedic singing and dancing zombies unlike anything seen to date.” 

Composer & musical director Bryan Blaskie agreed saying that what he thinks makes Victorian Courting & Zombies stand out is that it is a comedy before anything else. “Susan and the cast come from the improv and sketch worlds. I joined as a musical theatre geek to write a few funny songs, but once this thing developed outside of UCB and iO West, it became a musical. 

The most rewarding part of this project as a composer is really taking the musical motives of the show and layering them on top of each other as the plot develops. Since Susan uses a lot of the book to comment on the style and expectations of the Victorian era, I use the music to comment on ‘musical theatre’ expectations. These aren’t just funny songs. I really worked to pay attention to scansion, prosody, and form so that I could elevate this from a comedy with songs to a musical comedy. I use different styles of music throughout; gospel, baroque, My Fair Lady-style flourishes, Cy Coleman-esque belting, and more. And since there are only 9 numbers, that’s a lot to cram in.

I wanted it to be a flashy and entertaining MUSICAL with dance breaks, harmonies, and belting. We even added an ensemble! Susan keeps the jokes rolling every beat, and this cast is making me laugh until at I cry at the piano. Together it’s an incredibly entertaining and cohesive show that speaks beyond singing and dancing zombies to gender inequality and societal expectations.”

In addition to Sassi the cast for this 45-minute musical comedy includes Graham Beckett as Alfred, James Ross as Mr. Blubberbutt, David Kerns as Mary Funktard, Blake Hogue as Mr. Bingsley, and Diana Varco as Jane Funktard, with ensemble members Manny Hagopian, Kat Radley, Christina Nannos and Greg Goodness directed by Gina Ippolito.

June 13, 21 & 28, 2014
Complex Theatres (The Dorie Theatre)
6476 Santa Monica Blvd
Tickets: $10

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