The most imaginative piece of theater in New York right now is happening in a church basement on West 71st Street. I’m speaking of the musical Bedbugs, and you must run like a commuter fleeing from a bedbug-infested N train to see it.
I’d forgotten how much fun camp done well can be and this show hits the nail on the head on several counts.
The plot, such as it is, involves the recent infestation of New York City by bedbugs and one scientist’s quest to wipe them out and simultaneously avenge the death-by-bedbug of her mother. Somehow, a character based on the self-parodying singer Celine Dion (here called Dionne Salon) also figures into the plot, to hilarious effect.
The cast is uniformly excellent, but there are some standouts in my mind. Barry Shafrin as a protypical hipster has every mannerism down pat, from the constant scowl on his face to his non-stop staring at his iPhone to such utterances as “I’m allergic to sincerity!” and “I don’t even ironically like Dionne Salon!”
That brings us to Brian Charles Rooney as the aforementioned Dionne Salon. I didn’t even realize that a man was playing this role until I looked at the program during intermission. It was only then that I noticed his uncharacteristically (for a woman) large hands, but then I wondered, “How does he sing so high?” His impersonation is spot-on, from her annoying habit of pronouncing the word “love” as “lurve” to her diaphanous gown waving in a fake breeze.
Chris Hall as lead bedbug Cimex bring a Rocky Horror-like swagger to his role. (It’s no surprise to learn that he played Rocky and is also in an 80’s tribute band.)
Grace McLean as the scientist Carly has an admirable set of pipes and makes a wonderful transition from nerdy scientist to sex-bomb leading lady.
I don’t know how large the budget for this off-Broadway show is, but you certainly see every penny onstage. The four-piece band does a pitch-perfect rendition of the show’s 80’s-sounding score by Paul Leschen and Fred Sauter. The costumes (particularly for the bedbugs) are way over the top and match anything Disney could pull off. The staging makes the most of this unusually shaped space, including a chirpy morning news reporter who sticks her head through a TV set to simulate a live broadcast.
If I wanted to quibble, I’d say the first act seemed a little long (even though it was only an hour). But you’ll be having so much fun, you won’t care.
Just bring insecticide. (I kid!)