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Review: Haunted by gremlins, Dead of the Night opening falters

Marvelosa's wobbly musical

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Dead of the Night, Theatre Marvelosa's Halloween-themed musical now running at PURE Theatre, starts with a headless figure wandering onto the stage and a deep-voiced PA announcement that the performance will begin in five minutes. For an audience uncertain what to expect from the evening's entertainment, it's a reassuring touch — perhaps a spooky little tip of the headless hat to Cirque de Soleil's Quidam character (except without the umbrella).

Like Cirque's Quidam, Dead of the Night may have been aiming to spin a surreal narrative web out of dreamlike, recurring themes. If so, this ambition went unrealized, owing largely to persistent audio issues that plagued the opening night performance.

It's a pity that this show was so ruthlessly undermined in this way, because if you'd seen production stills of its cast in costume, you would likely have been impressed. Visually, Dead of the Night is stylish, intriguing eye-candy that dabbles with the naughtier edges of the Dark Side pretty well, too. With several costume changes among her large cast, author and costumer designer Willi Jones offers us plenty to admire. The program names 22 cast members but doesn't specify their roles in the show.

The show's narrative set-up, in which a darkly handsome gent, quill pen in hand, scratches away in his journal, found itself sidelined by muffled, indecipherable dialogue. The journal-keeping gent is a recurring character here but since the point of him was lost from the start, his subsequent appearances are simply that.

What follows is a cabaret/variety show style promenade through a loosely Halloween-ish songbook. Everything from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's "Fire," Donovan's trippy "Season of the Witch" to Aaron Carter's "I Want Candy" and a neat riff on the Prince song, "Head."

Dead of the Night is on generally solid ground in these musical/dance numbers. Musical Director Lee Barbour brings together a solid band of accomplished local musicians featuring Jack Burg, Jonathan Gray, and Rodderick Simmons. Thankfully, the band had no problems with their sound system and they even did what they could to rein themselves in when one singer's mic dropped out entirely.

Dead of the Night's lackadaisical narrative structure allows it to meander from Grimm's fairy tales to the Mexican Day of the Dead, from Werewolves of London to a pole dance number in which the troupe's fluorescent costumes gleam in UV black light. The singing and dancing are energetic and committed even in those very few questionable sequences that might be interpretive dance but mostly serve to throw the show off-pace. The show is best when it's not taking itself too seriously.

At least for this performance, Dead of the Night recalled HBO's dark fantasy series, Carnivàle — visually interesting, ultimately a little confounding and, as a result, something of a wasted opportunity. If this production can bring its shambolic sound issues under control and tighten its pacing, there's likely to be an evening's well-rounded entertainment there, under the ghostly hood, one that we would like to have seen.

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