Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy
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Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy

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"TimeOut Chicago"

There's indeed something about watching "Love is Dead" that is like loving a cadaver - which, of course, is the pursuit in which the musical's hero, a shy mortician named Orin, indulges until he meets the real-live woman of his dreams. The body is there, but there's something...missing inside this production of a sharp script by James Asmus (who also stars as Orin), scored with gut-punching jazzy-rock songs by Julie Nichols: that perfect marriage of satire and musical theatre chops.

TimeOut Recommended
#1 Don't Miss Event 08/31/2007
#1 Don't Miss Event 01/04/2008 - Megan Powell


"Windy City Times"

Call it a clever confluence of Jungian collective cadavers. Just as ABC-TV is readying the new romantic drama "Pushing Daisies" - about a man who can bring the dead back to life - The Annoyance Theatre is already running its own twisted romantic death show called "Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy."

Love is Dead also taps into America's past TV dead sensation Six Feet Under and spoofs multiple forensic-science mystery TV shows. Of course, The Annoyance goes beyond what is acceptable on primetime TV by making the romantic of Love is Dead into a necrophiliac.

But for a theater famously known for its hit Co-ed Prison Sluts, the necrophilia isn't a shock at all - it's quite endearing. Love is Dead's talented creators play up its quirky black comedy to the hilt, but they also make you genuinely care about the confused and obsessive oddball characters and their predicaments.

Add the fact that the fun 1980s pop-styled score by composer Julie Nichols and co-lyricists James Asmus and Andrew Hobgood is so enjoyable makes this typical late night show subject matter more than ready for its 8 p.m. prime-time Friday slot.

Everything swirls around the timid mortician Orin ( Asmus, who also makes an affable leading man ) . Abandoned by his parents at an early age, Orin has taken to finding love and companionship with the lively cadavers who start piling up when a mass-murder hits the rural town of Waldorf, Vt.

Lyndsay Hailey is a dancing and belting knockout as the frisky unidentified corpse Jane Doe, while Mort Burke makes for a great surfer dude TK Nichols. TK is the late boyfriend of town newcomer Julie ( Brooke Bagnall), who takes Orin by surprise when she ( a living person ) takes a romantic interest in him.

Yet Orin becomes the prime suspect for the string of murders when the forensic geneticist named Dana Strand ( Megan Johns, in a great and coldly calculating performance ) finds all sorts of suspicious DNA remnants in exhumed corpses. Rounding out the troupe are fine comic performances by Nick Vatterott as the immature and not-so-sharp Deputy Don and Daniel Jessup as Sheriff Harvey.

Director/choreographer Hobgood moves things along well comically with his great cast. They're only a bit underpowered now and then when the audiences' laughter covers their zany lyrics. My only other qualm is that some of the transitions could have been a bit smoother on what is essentially a bare stage at the Annoyance.

Love is Dead deserves to have a long run at the Annoyance, especially if Pushing Daisies proves to be a mega-hit for ABC. Though Love is Dead won't easily get mainstream acceptance, it adds to the Annoyance's prestige for presenting skillfully written off-kilter comedies for Chicagoans cool enough to be ahead of pop-culture trends.

CRITICS PICK - Scott Morgan


"Gay Chicago Magazine"

As far as the retail stores are concerned, it is never to soon to start thinking about the Christmas shopping season. As far as I am concerned, it is never too soon to start thinking about some spooky or twisted Halloween fun! And Annoyance presents an early offering to the creepiest of holidays with its world premier production of "Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy."

It is generally good policy to avoid sleeping with people from work, especially when they're dead. Orin is a shy and lonely mortician who develops "on the job" relationships that are less than professional and even less natural. These relationships prove satisfying, at least until decomposition. When a forensic geneticist shows up to help solve the town's serial murders, Orin finds himself in deep trouble. But falling in love with a living, breathing woman may prove to be his biggest mistake.

The perverse nature of the story takes a back seat to the hysterically likeable cast. They turn the freak show into a joy ride of delightful musical numbers and setup scenes, with some absolute comic brilliance sprinkled in.

When Orin tells Jane, the dead girlfriend, that he is breaking up with her for a live girl, she asks, "Who is this slut?" "She's not a slut," responds Orin. "Well, then why would you want to be with her? asks the necro-nympho Jane.

Lyrics like, "Why don't you put your meat in my ice box," from the song 'Dead Girls Make Better Lovers,' might seem like the standard Annoyance bizarre bill of fare, but when delivered with Lyndsay Hailey's sexy post mortem sassy charm this number transcends the typical outrageous to become a saucy riotous hoot.

Writer-performer James Asmus creates a sympathetically funny Orin and a playground for the rest of the cast. Everyone has excellent moments, but the scenes between Daniel Jessup, as Sheriff June Harvey, and the irreverently astonishing Nick Vatterott, as Deputy Don, steal the show. Vatterott takes Don Knott's Barney Fife character as a base line and explodes with absurd, idiosyncratic and idiotic foolishness. His performance is one of the most uniquely funny delivered on any stage this year.

Director-cowriter-choreographer Andrew Hobgood has a great show on his hands that could be terrific with some polish and fine-tuning. Composer -musical director Julie Nichols has written an impressive score. The songs are mischievously amusing, and the incidental scene change msic is fantastic. Jamie Martinez's superb bass work, Jeff DeRoche's perfectly subtle drums and Nichols' excellent piano-keyboards create one of the year's best small pit bands. Sadly, even with the exceptionally restrained work by the musicians, the flat acoustics in the Annoyance space puts a strain on the audience, thereby making it difficult to catch all of the clever lyrics. Still, the show is as musically exciting as it is humorously engaging.

I would love to see a tighter delivery of this show with stronger production values since "Love is Dead" is the most complete and thought-out production that I've seen at Annoyance this season. But as it stands, considering the bare-bones (no pun intended) staging and the fact that the single stage at Annoyance needs to facilitate 14 other different productions throughout the week, "Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy" is packed with silly fun, exceptional music, and frenetic energy that makes for a great time.

THREE OUT OF FOUR STARS - Venus Zarris


"Chicago Reader"

The funniest thing about the line-crossing piece is that it's actually straight-up musical theater. Sure, it goes places your average Broadway show wouldn't: the hero is a necrophiliac mortician, whose passed-on partners cavort and croon when no one's looking. But shock humor in the service of old-school song and dance isn't unprecedented: take "Sweeney Todd" for example. Built on strong songs by old pro Julie Nichols, the show does trade heavily on the cemetery-man-meets-American Werewolf in London drollery of the "dead speak (and fuck!)" conceit; Mort Burke and Lyndsay Hailey are especially hilarious as writer-star James Asmus's zombie sidekicks. But it's the lights-out polish of both material and ensemble that raises this above garden-variety weirdness.

RECOMMENDED - Brian Nemtusak


"The Bastion"

Just how good can a rock musical be that was written in a week with a necrophiliac main character? Infinitely better than it sounds.

"Love is Dead" centers around a small-town mortician, Orin (played by writer James Asmus), who thinks the jig is up when a forensic analyst comes to town to investigate a string of murders. Things get interesting when a real live woman, Julie (Brooke Bagnall) shows interest in Orin.

The two dead characters Jane Doe and TK Nichols (Lyndsay Hailey and Mort Burke), who only Orin can talk to of course, both have great comedic timing and singing ability; and Megan Johns does well as the kooky forensic analyst Dana Strand. The favorite duo in the play, however, would have to be the Sheriff (Daniel Jessup) and Deputy Don (Nick Vatterott) - complete with Vatterott's version of the bumbling police officer, reminiscent of the classic Bernard P Fife.

The musical numbers were written by Second City veteran Julie Nichols, with Asmus writing the lyrics. The songs are witty and catchy, 'Dead Girls Make Better Lovers' in particular. Director Andrew Hobgood utilizes the small stage well, and despite seeing a "preview", the show looked ready for opening night.

So even if you hate musicals (as I do - "Little Shop of Horrors" being the exception) or didn't like "Six Feet Under (this is funny! Not gory!), go see "Love is Dead." Never has 'I'm sorry for your loss' been funnier. - Jen Bacher


"Chicago Sun-Times"

This gross-out musical spoof closes a few days before Halloween. Still, if you need a date to audition the other half of that perfect couples costume, the Annoyance Theatre has got you covered. Critics have praised the show's sharp jokes and surprisingly warm heart.

The setting: a small town in the grip of a murder spree. The story: a necrophiliac mortician finds love with a live woman. It just screams romance.

HOT SEAT SELECTION - Sun-Times Editors


"TalkinBroadway.com"

Horror films, B-Movies an tabloid trash have all provided inspiration for Off-Broadway musicals, and this smart production about necrophilia proves there's still, if you'll forgive the pun, life in the genre. "Love is Dead." with book an lyrics by James Asmus and Andrew Hobgood and music by Julie Nichols, finds a new way to blend genre traditions like wayward corpses, lovable loners and societal paranoia into a clever little book musical that makes for a fun evening at the improv club the Annoyance.

This story's hero, Orin (played by Asmus), is a young but reclusive mortician who lacks the self-confidence to romance any women other than those who've left for the next life. He's a close cousin to "Little Shop of Horrors'" Seymour and of course "Little Shop" has an Orin of its own (the dentist), so the homas is obvious. This Orin has been examining (and romancing) the corpses of the female victims of a series of mass murders. A la "Six Feet Under," we see the corpses conversing with Orin as if they were alive. When Julie (Brooke Bagnall), the ex-girlfriend of a male victim, visits Orin to ID her late boyfriend's body, a mutual attraction develops between Orin and Julie. Orin is challenged by his first opportunity for a relationship with a living woman, but the challenges get greater when Dana (Megan Johns), the DNA forensic scientist hired by the police to help solve the crimes, becomes a rival to Julie for Orin's affections. By the end of act one, Orin has become the leading suspect for the murders, and we find out (prematurely, I would say), who the real killer is.

The improv-trained cast directed by Hobgood has a lot of fun with the material, delivering the dark comedy with a sure sense of timing and the ability to telegraph quirky character traits quickly. Asmus and Hobgood might work at fleshing out Orin and Jane a bit more, as the supporting characters are more entertaining than the leads. Orin's current corpse lover is played by Lyndsay Hailey as an energetic and lively hottie. The deceased male victim is a deadpan skater dude named TK Nichols. Mort Burke's skinny frame and mop of blond hair give him the perfect physical appearance for the character and he finds some new approaches to the stoned surfer/skater archetype. The incompetent cops are two sides of Don Knott's immortal Barney Fife. Daniel Jessup is the too-serious Sheriff and Nick Vatterott the dim-witted Deputy Don. Though the types are familiar, their dry delivery of the funny lines and running jokes in the script make the characters work. As the controlling, self-important DNA forensic scientist, Johns makes a fine secondary villain.

The pop and hip-hop influenced score is enjoyable, with at least one hook, in the song "Unconditional Love," that's stayed in my brain. Nichols does an especially nice job establishing a mood for the piece with her incidental music, which is nicely played by Nichols on keyboards, Jamie Martinez on Bass and Jeff DeRoche on drums.

Chicago is a great place to study and practice the art of improv. This cast has trained at schools like the Second City, ImprovOlympic and the home of this production, the Annoyance. The presentational style of improv, together with the abilities its performers hone in establishing character and continually refining their delivery for maximum laughs, translate well to musical comedy. However, if improv theaters are going to do musicals, the performers out to be taking voice classes as well. The singing voices here were certainly listenable (though Asmus had some serious pitch problems), but unrefined. The voices probably didn't do justice to Nichols' score, which sounded best when it was in the hands of the band.

"Love is Dead" is a good time, though. Asmus, Hobgood and company have put together a funny, outrageous and gross-enough for an improv club evening that's an original twist on a familiar genre. It closes with an understated, subtle joke that rivals "Some Like it Hot's" immortal 'Nobody's perfect' in its simplicity. There's a big difference between a good time at an improv club and a classic like "Little Shop," but the beauty of improv work is the opportunity for its creators to keep improving it. Asmus, Nichols and Hobgood have a good start here. - John Olson


Discography

Love is Dead Original Cast Recording (2007)

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Bio

Annoyance Productions Presents
LOVE IS DEAD: A NECROMANTIC MUSICAL COMEDY

The New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC
A production of The Present Company
August 8th - 24th
Tickets: $15. For tickets visit www.FringeNYC.org


Annoyance Productions is proud to present "Love Is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy" as part of the 11th annual New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC. From the producers and co-creators of the 2006 FringeNYC Outstanding Musical Award winning show "58! A Comedy about Bike Messengessengering," this ensemble cast and creative team consist of a cadre of experienced performers from across Chicago who have been seen on the stages of Second City, iO (formerly Improv Olympic), and comedy and theater festivals around the world.

"Love is Dead" is a rock'n'roll musical and romantic comedy about Orin, a necrophile mortician, who falls in love with his first live girl. As he tries to start a new life, he finds himself in a race against time to bury his past (literally) when a Forensic Geneticist arrives to solve a series of serial murders plaguing his small hometown of Waldorf, Vermont.

"Love is Dead" was a Hot Seat Selection in the Chicago Sun-Times, a Don't Miss event in TimeOut Chicago twice, and Highly Recommended by the Chicago Reader who said, "the lights-out polish of both material and ensemble raises this above garden-variety weirdness."

While "Love is Dead" is a sophisticated, dark comedy, it is also a story of murder and betrayal and as such contains ADULT MATERIAL. DISCRETION ADVISED.

Written by and starring James Asmus, winner of the 2001 World's Playwright Competition, the rock'n'roll score is written and performed by former Second City Music Director Julie Nichols. Co-written, Directed and Choreographed by Andrew Hobgood, producer and co-creator of "58!", "Love is Dead" features James Asmus, Mort Burke, Lyndsay Hailey, Forest Hynes, Daniel Jessup, Meg Johns and Thea Lux.

As one of Chicago's comedy giants, Annoyance Productions has been producing all-original shows for the past 20 years. The Annoyance made Chicago history when its famous production "Co-ed Prison Sluts" took the title of Chicago's longest-running hit musical. A training center as well as a theater, The Annoyance counts Jeff Garlin, David Pasquesi, Andy Richter, Jane Lynch and Jon Favreau among its long list of alumni.