We’ve seen a parade of retrospective musicals over the past decade or so – turning the life story of famous singers into fodder for the stage. None of those plots take audiences beyond the closing act and on into the afterlife -- until now.
Bringing together a medley of world-class musicians who are stuck in limbo, the hilarious creative team at the Institution Theater has spawned a delightfully warped brainchild in their new show, “Rock N Roll Purgatory,” playing Fridays and Saturdays through June 28.
While The Institution is more often host to improv and stand-up comedy shows, this original, (mostly) scripted rock musical contains just as much exuberance and silliness as we might expect from director and writer Asaf Ronen and his talented cast.
Jim Morrison (Callie Sharon), Johnny Cash (John Marshall Reed), Sid Vicious (Tyler Lane) and Amy Winehouse (Kristen Kurtis) are just a few of the troubled troubadours killing time between heaven and hell.
When the fictional rock trio, The Havocs, die in a freak electrical accident, Bastian (Justin Davidson), Lola (Ann K. Flynn), and Burke (Adam Niederpruem) must each find their own way through the wilderness of perdition.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story without a villain, and Chelley Pyatt (D-Minor) is delightfully evil in her role as the social worker demon in charge of each musician’s case. Her role also affords the opportunity to sneak a few improvised numbers into the show. In a fiendish competition, D-Minor forces musicians to come up with songs on the spot if they hope to make it into heaven.
The show starts off strong with some hilarious numbers that get better the closer you listen to the lyrics (especially The Havocs’ hit single “Just A Note”). And the cast does an excellent job meeting the vocal demands of their roles. Reed offers an outstanding rendition of Cash, and The Havocs could almost make us believe they’re a real band.
That being said, in its efforts at dramatic arc, the show loses a lot of energy in the second half. When many of the characters are given their self-reflective moment in the spotlight, the silliness fades into a bit too much drama and the show loses some of its charm.
However, in spite of being a bit too long, “Rock N Roll Purgatory” is a whole lot of fun. It’s great to see so many talented improvisers on the same stage, and it’s guaranteed to make you laugh.
“Rock N Roll Purgatory” continues 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 28. www.theinstitutiontheater.com