By Stanford Friedman
I was beginning to worry that summer would pass us by without a time-travel musical featuring dancing zombies, puppet dinosaurs and the spawn of Satan. Fortunately, Ludo’s Broken Bride has dropped in for a brief visit at this year’s New York Musical Festival to remedy the situation. It’s an uneven ride, a mix of surprising and irresistible moments intercut with less than stellar dialog and a love story that waters down the craziness.
If you are of a certain age with particular musical tastes you may be wondering, “Who is Ludo, and how did he break his bride?” Well, as many of the 20-somethings who packed the Duke Theater for opening night could tell you, Ludo is an alt rock band out of St. Louis whose heyday was somewhere around 2008. Broken Bride is the title of their 2005 rock opera which, zombie-like over the past decade, has sprung to life in various staged and concert versions. The original recording consisted of five numbers and ran less than half an hour. For this incarnation, the creative team has added numerous songs from the Ludo oeuvre and inflated the tale into a full two hour production.
The basic premise is familiar to any sci-fi fan. A man travels back in time, trying to prevent a tragedy from occurring. But, in doing so, he upsets the timeline causing even greater tragedy. The man in this case is Thomas, played by Carson Higgins when he’s romping amid puppet Pterodactyls, and by Michael Jayne Walker when he’s a disgruntled science nerd obsessed with Oriel (Gabrielle McClinton), his college love who becomes his wife before meeting a terrible fate. Thomas sets his wayback machine to 1989 to try and prevent Oriel’s death, but oops, a miscalculation sends him to the Mesozoic era. By the time he finds his way to the Reagan era, the world is a doomsday mess, what with the undead rising up and all.
Act One gets us ready to rock with Mr. Higgins soulfully delivering the mournful title song, but then spends too much time tracing the couple’s romance. Act Two has several powerhouse numbers but is also burdened with some plot points that overwhelm. Taking pre-existing songs and building a musical around them is tough in the best of situations (I’m looking at you, Mamma Mia!). It’s a matter of balance, and hopefully the writers will continue the effort beyond this run. If the show can establish its proper footing, it could find itself being a cult favorite.
That said, there are still many positives to build upon. Puppeteer Brendan Malafronte creates a charming show stealer with his rat-like prehistoric beast named Hawking. Brian Charles Rooney is a knockout as King Simius, the well-polished devil cum zombie leader. His second act anthem, Love Me Dead, bleeds evil. Jackson Perrin delivers with the show’s catchiest song, Save Our City. And, unexpectedly, the best part of the night is the dancing. Choreographer Steven Paul Blandino not only gives us a gymnastic zombie chorus, but also, channeling his inner Agnes de Mille, offers a steady stream of lovely pas de deux that enliven and add depth to many of the numbers. He provides a dream dance version of Thomas and Oriel (Spencer Clark and Melissa Hunter McCann), two lithe dancers who suddenly appear beside the actors when the couple first meet and then reappear at critical times in their relationship to express the characters’ feelings through ballet. It was stunning in 1943 when de Mille introduced the concept in Oklahoma! and it’s still stunning, even in a 1989 apocalypse.
Ludo’s Broken Bride – Concept, Music, Lyrics by Ludo. Adaptation by Stacey Weingarten from the Original Concept Album by Ludo & Additional Materials by Andrew Volpe; Arrangements/Addt’l Story by Dana Levinson. Directed by Stacey Weingarten and Donna Drake.
WITH: Gabrielle McClinton (Oriel/Uchefuna), Marissa O’Donnell (Mena/Mayor), Jamen Nanthakumar (Joe/Finn), Jackson Perrin (Amzi & Others), Larry Hamilton (The Archangel Raguel), Brendan Malafronte (Hawking & Others), Catherine Landeta (Desdemona & Others), Carson Higgins (Thomas Liridon – The Traveler), Melissa Hunter McCann (Dance Oriel & Others), Spencer Clark (Dance Tom & Others), Ashley Talluto (Featured Dancer), Brian Charles Rooney (King Simius & Others), Devin Richey (Featured Dancer) and Michael Jayne Walker (Thomas Liridon – The Flashbacks).
Executive Producer – Chinese Mother Jewish Daughter, Line Producer/GM – Michael Chase Gosselin, Music Director – Peter M. Hodgson, Choreographer – Steven Paul Blandino, Puppet Design – Sierra Schoening, Light/Shadow Effects – Frankie Cordero, Lighting Design – Andrew Scharwath, Projection Design – Pauline Lu, Costume Design – Bree Perry, Scenic Design – Christopher and Justin Swader, Props Design – Addison Heeran; Michael Danek, Stage Manager. The New York Musical Festival at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. 866-811-4111, http://nymf.org/festival/2016-events/ludos-broken-bride/. Through August 6. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.