BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining evening with some very funny moments, but not as edgy or intense as the subject matter implies.
When I went into the theater, ready to spend the next ninety minutes of life with Manson: The Musical, I was hoping for an edgy, intense, mildly offensive comedy. That's not what I got, and I was a little disappointed. The title sounds like it should deliver murder, psychosis, sex, and an intricately woven character analysis of at least its title character. Instead Manson: The Musical is an evening of oral sex jokes (lots of them, some of them good, some of them so-so), sixties pop music and a loosely woven tale of a murderous cult. Despite some short comings, EndTimes Productions does manage to showcase a few talented performances and individuals, and all and all, it's a fun evening.
The production, which briefly tells the tale of the infamous Manson Family murders, is perhaps too brief. I knew very little about the murders or The Manson Family prior to the show, and no more when I left. To clue those in who aren't aware: Charles Manson was the leader of the 1960's cult The Manson Family, notorious for the murder of several people, including Roman Polanski's pregnant actress wife, Sharon Tate.
Director Russell Dobular successfully creates more than one intriguing moment on stage. In one scene the Manson Family women sit scattered around the family ranch engaged in various activities, and through careful staging, Dobular not only creates a clear picture, but somehow made me feel the dirt and hippie vibe. Another successful moment for Dobular, in conjunction with choreographer Tiffany Herrioett, is the use of a strobe light in one of two murder scenes, played out to The Beatles' "Helter Skelter," providing the one, truly eerie moment in the show. Unfortunately what Dobular seems to miss are the potential momets of subtlety. I left wanting to know why the girls in the family were so fond of Manson and so eager to perform the oral sex that is the butt of many jokes, I wish I would have felt the control that Manson had over the cult. Perhaps the direction I was most confused about was to portray all of the Manson families' murder victims as obnoxious, irksome individuals, that the audience was more or less pleased to have stop talking.
All of this aside, Manson: the Musical put out some really great performances; among them Melissa Ciesla as the deadpan narrator reporting on the murders. Ciesla seems to catch the balance of sincerity and humor that I was longing for at other points in the show. Alexander Dunbar as Charles Manson was so right in so many ways. Physically his somewhat short stature and mop-top hair strongly invoked the image of Manson, and more importantly his solid stage presence and charisma lent what could be a rather hostile character, quite a bit of charm. By the end of the show, he was covered in sweat. I love it when actors sweat, it makes me feel like they're committing, as was certainly the case with Dunbar. One of the biggest surprises of the evening was that the members of the on-stage band, were among the best actors on the stage. Not only did the band provide music for much of the show, they portray The Beatles, The Monkees and The Beach Boys in a series of truly hilarious interviews.
My biggest frustration with the production is a technical issue. From what I could tell, the music was good, and the lyrics were witty and well delivered. The problem was, I could rarely hear the vocals over the band. It's not easy to do a rock musical with a live band, but no mics; enough said on that.
All and all, Manson: the Musical is an amusing evening of theater. Don't go expecting to be disturbed, frightened or enlightened, but it's worth the time to support what is a funny, ambitious production.
(Manson: The Musical plays at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street. Remaining performances are Sunday, January 10th at 10:30pm; Sunday, January 17th at 7pm; Sunday, January 24th at 7pm. Tickets are $18 each or $15 with a valid studnt ID. For tickets visit www.ovationtix.com or visit endtimesproductions.org for more information.)