Tonight is the eve of humanity’s reckoning! Because The Baltimore Rock Opera Society is absolutely going to raise some hell— quite literally— in what could arguably be the most fantastic sendup to B-grade horror films of yesteryore with their latest original creation: Incredibly Dead! The B-Horror Rock Opera. Co-Directed by Michael Ziccardi and Sarah Gretchen Doccolo, with Musical Direction by Paul Joyce, and Choreography by Caitlin Rife, this zany, whacky, so-bad-it’s-good comedic musical is all of their own creation and it’s a thoroughly hilarious encounter. With hundreds of people involved in the process— everything from writing the libretto to getting the production up on its feet— this hardcore community effort is one for the books, no grave matter, for sure.
Having attended at least half a dozen BROS shows over the years, it is with great joy and praises that I say Incredibly Dead! The B-Horror Rock Opera is the most balanced-sounding piece that they’ve ever presented in recent history. Lead Audio Technician Brent Tomchik, alongside his audio crew, have masterfully managed to properly balance the sound that these wonderful rockers are putting out during their show. The hardcore grit and edginess of the songs are still there from the band, balanced perfectly against the strengthened vocals of the performers, and nothing is so deafening that it can’t be enjoyed. Make no mistakes, it’s loud, but it’s exceptionally well blended and balanced so that you can hear lyrics AND score. This is a true mark of triumph in BROS history.
In addition to this blissful sound balancing act they’ve accomplished, the band— Cemetariot (featuring Paul Joyce as band lead/guitar, Nick Jewett on guitar, Rick Kolm on bass, Amiel Nuchovich on drums, Julius Verzosa on keys, Gino Abellanosa on viola, and Jacob Deaven on sax/ewi)— has come up with some truly thrillifying vamps and underscoring to help assist the cumbersome scene changes along. Paul Joyce, as the band’s leader and musical director of the show, has fine-tuned the sense of creepy background music, perfectly fitting for a B-Horror Film about morticians and Ghoulies, and laces it flawlessly under the scene changes as they happen. The BROS are known for their extravagant sets, which often take a bit longer than your average scene-change to properly rotate into place. With Joyce’s skilled ability and Cemetariot’s keen understanding over the show’s overall verve, you almost don’t notice these lengthy scene changes because the musical happenings are so amusing. In addition to playing vamps and transition music, Cemetariot knows how to truly electrify the show, really blasting that edginess into the more up-tempo songs to give some of those numbers a true “BROS-Core” feel, while backing off to allow some of the slower, ballad numbers to have a hefty emotional gravitas.
Some of the most impressive facets of this particular BROS production are the set pieces and the puppets— that’s right, you heard correctly, because what kind of proper B-Horror movie send up would it be without dancing demon puppets?— featured throughout the performance. By far, the most astonishing piece of properties-scenery work displayed in the show is the Tenenbrum Organum, designed by Mike Bull Sr. This creepy and horrific, yet perfectly potent prop/set-piece defies description with its souls of the damned appearing right on the pipes of the organ, complete with moaning mouths! Set Leaderr Sierra Ho, along with her assistant Max Sobolik and a team of over a dozen, keep pieces like this enormous monstrosity— said in the best possible vein of positivity since it’s literally an organ of the damned, so to speak— moving in a fluent fashion with the other gargantuan set pieces that roll in and out over the course of the evening.
Puppet Lead Chris Reuther, assistant Erik Barr, and a different team of over a dozen, create some of the most outrageously hideodeous and hilarious puppet creatures that one can imagine. Without wanting to really spoil it, or give away just where they come from and why, or how, it can simply be said that Reuther and crew do a fine job of fabricating these little enchanting demons into existence, and their puppeteers (especially the one for that tabled dragon looking creation) are most impressive when it comes to giving them lively movements.
Costume Lead Kat Zotti, assistant asia-Anansi McCallum, and yet a different team of just over half a dozen, put all sorts of impressive efforts forward, creating wicked outfits that truly pay tribute and homage to the ghastly nightmares of bad B-grade horror movies from a time gone by. Whether it’s the slinky red dress of the evening featured on Catherine Catty Coombs or the hellish little twin outfits— complete with humps— for Patience and Purity Coombs, Zotti and the sartorial selection team really know how to outfit a horror show. Lumped into this bout of praise are Gore Design Leader Amanda Boutwell (and the Gore-Team of six) and The WHAM (wigs, hair, and make-up) co-leaders Heather England and Melissa LaMartina (and their team of four.) Boutwell, England, and LaMartina, and their respective teams, work wonders to create some thrillifying looks, whether it’s the overly exaggerated make-up seen on Catherine Catty Coombs or the revolting front-facial prosthetic of Claude Coombs. Again, for fear of spoiling a great deal of things, we simply won’t go into the gory details of all the aforementioned teams & leaders’ great successes, especially in the gore department, but it can be said that they do their job disgustingly well.
A BROS show is a full experience; the front of house— this time taking on a tower of terror feel— is concocted by FoH Designer Sanaya Forbes, with support from Tyler Grady and Michael Ridgaway, along with an entire team of 15 other individuals. The overall aesthetic is the perfectly spooky experience to get your mind in the right frame for properly…digesting…Incredibly Dead! The B-Horror Rock Opera.
The show itself is campy, though the balance of who really delves into the camp and who plays it for straight-lace is somewhat off. Written with loads and loads of camp, the writing team— consisting of Michael Ziccardi as head writer, Kathy Carson, Chris LaMartina, and Matt Pie on the writing team, and Paul Joyce and Greg Bowen on the composing team— does an excellent job at creating their own unique plot, which still creates a vibrantly vile and violent sendup to all of those gruesome B-grade horrors that have come before them. There is a clashing of plots, where two plots accidentally-on-purpose slam together, and although it feels a little discombobulated, it’s a minor hiccup in what is otherwise a super thrilling rock-theatre-opera-gore-horror-movie experience.
The characters featured in the side plot, which ironically enough is the plot that’s really introduced first, tend to lean hard to the heavy side of severity, not taking the opportunity to embrace the campiness of the show’s overall nature, but this aside they still deliver striking vocal performances. Danielle Robinette as General Maximilian Morder is a true old-school villain. No camp, just spawn-of-Satan-style evil, coursing through every vein and informing every song. Robinette’s “Mortified” and “Homily” are hardcore off the charts with rage and intensity. Margaux Morder (Meghan Stanton) is also leveled in the severity-side of the show, with a badass grudge to bear and she puts it on full tilt during “Margaux’s Lament.”
Though briefly appearing in a cameo, and later perhaps an undead voiceover, Benton Cryptz (Atticus Emerson) is positively a scream! Channeling that sleazy, ne’er-do-good feeling of Danny DeVito circa his Matilda days, Emerson really lays on the conman approach to his character, so you get a sense right from the off that he’s one rotten apple, whose fruit might not fall too far from the tree. Less cameo and more…well…arising in interesting places…Victor Coombs (Zilch Powers) is one of three who does an exceptional job of digging his hands into the dirty work of what’s happening to his character. Powers, like the others in his situation (again not wanting to give too much away), is quite…handy…when it comes to manipulating certain…parts…of his character.
Fully plastered into the heightened enthusiasm of the show’s campy nature, John Bennett tackles the role of Baron Bryson Coombs with great virility. Quite a clap of camptastic cheesiness, Bennett’s Baron Bryson Coombs is— *GASP* — utterly enjoyable from his beginning to his…extremely theatrical end. Bonnie Hollyer, as Constance Coombs, though less steeped in the campiness of the show, fits the role well. Playing alongside Bennett and Powers for the better part of the show, once their…circumstances mutate…Hollyer really gets her hands into the part.
Trevor Wilhelms is putting on a show all his own in the role of Claude Coombs, what with the perfect dichotomy of psychotic and sweet. Wilhelms sincerely understands how to split a character right down the middle, the juxtaposition of his saccharine, simplistic speaking voice, up against the character’s external appearance and general nature is so shocking that it’s both admirable and hilarious. When he breaks out into “Claude’s Song”, hang onto your guts! For many reasons, naturally, but mostly because it’s so damn hilarious that you’ll be splitting a stitch in your side with laughter.
The stuff of nightmares, Purity (Meghan Taylor) and Patience (Lincoln Goode) Coombs are worse than the twins from The Shining. But they, like everyone naturally from the Coombs family, are deeply drenched in the campiness and overall horrific hysteria that is this production. Goode and Taylor have mastered the unique physique of these characters to hilarious ends, and the affected vocal presentation they give the twins is like something from another world. Their duet, “The Voyage Home” is a well-blended balance of hysterical nonsense and sincere balladeering, with both Goode and Taylor really getting themselves invested in the number.
Hands down, the show-stealing show-stopping monster of the show is none other than Catherin Catty Coombs (Molly Margulies.) With a hyper-exaggerated physicality, including an almost bent-vertically-backward-walk, Margulies embodies Catherine Catty Coombs as a sendup to Vampira, and every horrific black and white substanceless vampy vixen of evil from those silver screen horror film days. And she’s divine at what she does. Margulies affects her voice, raises her make-up to Everest, and does a smashing job of creating this caricature-turned-creature in the role of Catherine Catty Coombs. Cheers, brava, and all the praises to Margulies for this extraordinary creation she’s mastered.
It all swings down to the Crpytz Brothers. There’s little Silas (June Keating) who is the epitome of simpleton come to life, and then there’s Reggie (Eric Poch), the master of the zany macabre in a camptastic overload that just won’t quit. Keating is the perfect delicate balance to Poch’s preposterous level of camp (seriously, any campier and he’s going to have Jason Voorhees knocking on his door) and the pair play exceptionally well off one another. Poch is the man to watch. The eyes— they’re outrageous. The laughter— it’s maniacal. The overall physicality and general way he carries the character— it’s everything one could dream of, if their dreams were campy nightmares from B-Horror-Classics-turned-rock-operas. His delivery, both in speech and song, is to die for. Poch and Keating are quite the crackpot team, and really tie the whole shebang together.
This is one unholy adventure you won’t want to miss, especially not when it comes to all the home-cooked antics The BROS have waiting in store for you. It’s gory! It’s disastrously funny! It’s exceptionally well-balanced in the sound department! What’s not to love about Incredible Dead! The B-Horror Rock Opera?
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Incredibly Dead! The B-Horror Rock Opera plays through June 3, 2018 with The Baltimore Rock Opera Society at the Zion Lutheran Church— 400 E. Lexington Street in the heart of Charm City’s downtown just north of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door and in advance online.