I caught Bedbugs!!! the Musical as part of Super Week, so I’ve been sitting on this review longer than I should have—I blame NYCC. However the good news is that there is still time to catch Bedbugs!!! before its run ends on November 2, and yes, you want to do exactly that.
You might not think that bedbugs are a good subject for musical comedy. In fact, I’m guessing that the more times I say “bedbug,” the more you’re trying to suppress the urge to scratch. You’re not alone: I spent part of the performance scratching at the suggestion of bugs, and I wasn’t the only one in the audience with that problem. But from the opening scene featuring a young Carly (Grace McLean) watching her favorite singer, Dionne Salon (yes, that’s a deliberately over-the-top parody of Celine Dion, played by Brian Charles Rooney), on the TV and thus entirely missing the fact that bedbugs are killing her mother in the next room, you know you’re in for something fun. When Carly’s vendetta against the bugs unwittingly mutates them into giant man-eaters led by a strutting rock god of a bedbug king named Cimex (Chris Hall), you know you’re watching something awesome. It is a brilliantly campy sci-fi rock musical, and I can’t remember when I’ve laughed harder in a theater (“Silent Spring,” featuring a singing portrait of Rachel Carson in a giant copy of her environmental science manifesto Silent Spring, had me in tears). The bedbug costumes alone were masterpieces, but combined with a fantastic set, talented actors with great voices, direction that takes in every square inch of space in the basement theater, and choreography that involves scratching and aerosol sprays? Brilliant. I give it 4.5 out of 5 Lightning Bolts.
Now, full disclosure, I’ve known one of the show’s actors for a few years: Brian Charles Rooney (Dionne Salon) and I “met” over the internet when I reviewed the Roundabout Theater Company’s production of Threepenny Opera several years back. We’ve never actually met in person (which is odd, considering we have mutual friends) and still haven’t—the night of the performance I had a family emergency, so I couldn’t even stay to chat. However, he graciously agreed to be interviewed via email about Bedbugs!!!, Super Week, and NYCC, so I owe him a drink in person sometime. Thanks, Brian!
You’ve been with Bedbugs!!! since 2008 when it appeared at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF). This is a long incubation period (I am so sorry for that pun) even by NYC theater standards–how much has the show changed since then, and how involved were the actors in shaping the script?
The show has evolved quite a bit, actually! Songs have been added, songs have been deleted. Scenes have changed, and, as a result, characters have changed. My character’s arc through the show has grown, and it has become more substantial than when we first did the reading in 2007. That has been a thrill, because it is allowed me, the writers, and the director, to give Dionne what she deserves, in terms of great character development. Everyone has been so collaborative, and I’ve certainly been allowed to have a lot of influence over how Dionne has come to life over the years. I greatly appreciate that, as that’s not a commonly granted opportunity.
Bedbugs!!! was part of Super Week this year. Whose idea was that, and why do you think it’s a good fit?
There were a few people involved in the production who thought doing something with NYCC would be a good idea. I’ve been to the con many many times; I’ve been to SDCC many times as well… And to Power Con (the Masters of the Universe / Princess of Power Fan convention); so I’m aware that con culture offers anyone, looking to peddle his or her wares, the chance to do so in front of a large audience. Jamie Leo, who created all of the promotional design for our show, also thought it would be a good idea to get involved with the Con. Our collaboration with Ripley’s Believe It or Not, on West 42nd St., opened the door to that. They were involved with Super Week as well, and they’ve been incredibly supportive of our show in a cross-promotional way!
The show is such a great mix of camp and sci-fi traditions, but at its heart is more than that. What do you want audience members to take away when they leave the theater?
I want audiences to laugh, and to enjoy the music, the design, the costuming, the performances, etc…. all the typical hopes a theatrical artist has! Beyond that though, I hope they remember the story as one that explores a universal theme: self-worth. We all have our down moments; We all have our insecurities. The show, at its heart, addresses how its main characters go from being broken, unhappy, unloved, and insecure to successfully self-appreciative… The two protagonists triumph in the end because they find what they’d been missing all along: self-esteem. How they do that is the fun part… And I won’t spoil that here!
What is your favorite number or part of the show (whether you’re on stage or not)?
There are many I could mention; I’ll keep myself out of it for this one! When Cimex, played by Chris Hall, introduces himself to Carly (Grace McLean), the main character, I’m always delighted and full of smiles backstage. I’ve heard that scene countless times, for years, but it ALWAYS thrills me. It’s magical.
I know that this is the first NYCC that you haven’t attended in 6 years. What will you miss the most about it?
I actually was able to attend (if only for two hours)! My schedule this year has been rather intense; Bedbugs!!! isn’t the only theatrical work I’ve been doing, so my days were not free this year. It was the first NYCC in 6 years that I thought was going to miss. However, I had purchased tickets for Thursday & Friday ahead of time. I wasn’t able to use my Thursday badge, but on Friday, my schedule allowed for 2 hours of con fun… So I went shopping! I ended up getting great deals on a Marvel Legends Thor figure, and a replacement Kayo figure from the early ’90s Mattel “New Adventures of He-Man” line!
Do you think there’s more opportunity for theater/NYCC/Super Week overlap in the future? If so, what would you most want to see?
I do. I wish the Con were even more supportive of shows that have cross-over appeal. The con takes place in a city where the American Theater is rooted, and there is much fun to be had by employing even more cross-promotion. I am super grateful to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for being so supportive!
And finally, What’cha Reading?
The new Marvel Captain Marvel (so excited for her upcoming Marvel Legends figure!); and DC’s He-Man & The Masters of the Universe (which has been chock full of Adora / She-Ra and the Horde!!!).
Seriously, go see “Bedbugs!!!” right now. It’s been extended through November 2nd at the ArcLight Theater, 152 West 71st Street, Manhattan; and you can get tix by calling 866-811-4111, or via www.ovationtix.com.