Quick: world is ending, and it’s your job to fill a space ship. Who do you take?
How about an explosive retired navy captain and his leggy, put-upon wife? Or a conspiracy-loving former CIA Agent? What about a randy redneck girl and a geeky hipster boy? Or a crooked TV news reporter who’ll do anything to win an Oscar?
That’s the premise for Planet Eden, an original Broadway-style musical created by two Portlanders (pictured above, from left), composer Kurt Crowley and writer/producer Aaron Kirk Douglas. Three years in the making, Planet Eden tells the story of a millenarian cult in Texas, a group of singing misfits who gleefully prepare for their alien abduction in advance of the end of the world. At first the show’s trajectory seems relatively straightforward: the aliens come, the weirdos fly away. But things get interesting when the crooked reporter turns his camera on the cult members, revealing a cornucopia of startling pasts and hidden agendas.
Although the venue for Planet Eden’s Portland premier has yet to be announced, the show enjoyed a round of staged readings earlier this week (Jan. 24th and 25th) at Broadway Rose Theater, and the preliminary results are exciting. The characters are engaging; the dialogue is witty and fast-paced, and the music is technically accomplished, employing leitmotif and counterpoint. At its best, Planet Eden recalls the energetic camp of early Stephen Sondheim—think Saturday Night or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. At this point all it needs is a little spit and polish.
One particularly memorable moment occurs when Cricket, the randy redneck, looks to the stars for a boyfriend. In this, our modern age of conspicuous feelings and muted masculinity, she has been having trouble finding a man to meet her needs. She sings:
When I’m behind the ass-t’roid belt, I’ll be feeling things I never felt;
On Pluto, we won’t be “plutonic”, we’ll be repopulating like we’re supersonic.
Cheers to actress Meredith Weber, who played Cricket in the staged reading; her portrayal of a down-at-the-heels hayseed a la Lucinda Williams struck me as ready for opening night, and she sang with gleeful gusto. Otherwise, things seem to be coming along well, and this reviewer looks forward to seeing Planet Eden in its full production.