By Karen Topham, American Theatre Critics Association; photo by CST.
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s upcoming musical It Came From Outer Space does not premiere until 2022, but that doesn’t mean that Barbara Gaines and company have to sit back and wait until then. Nope. This week, CST reveals a clever, inventive 45-minute “digital prologue” to the show, featuring a sharp cast and wonderfully retro production values along with the first public performances of several of the musical’s original songs.
Called We Are Out There, it follows an alleged alien landing in Sand Rock, Arizona in the 1950s. (Seriously, is that a perfect name for an Arizona town or what?) A scientific researcher (Christopher Kale Jones) and his wife (Jaye Ladymore) are unwitting witnesses to this first contact event, but no one seems to believe them until half the town discovers that the other half has been replaced by alien imposters. These events are told juxtaposed with footage from a modern documentarian (Cher Álvarez) who is trying to uncover exactly what happened back then by interviewing townspeople, including a barfly played memorably by E. Faye Butler, a sheriff (Alex Goodrich), and the couple themselves (who appear to be remarkably well preserved for people in their…90s?).
It’s all goofy 50s-era sci-fi fun, so it doesn’t have to make any actual sense; it just needs to entertain. And that it accomplishes. Daniel Schloss (credited as “Creator/Editor”) includes plenty of visual cheesiness (at one point, he brings in a singing moon) while the actors deliver exactly the kind of over-the-top performances that establish their characters as representative of that more innocent time when science fiction movies didn’t have to be realistic, cost hundreds of millions of dollars and gross billions. All they did was give their audiences the fright or thrill of seeing rubber-masked monsters, flying saucers on strings, “huge” insects, or whatever. Schloss, working from a script by It Came From Outer Space co-creators Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, clearly understands camp as well as the writers do. Butler’s song even features (for no reason other than simple fun) sock puppets.
The featurette introduces several of Kinosian and Blair’s original songs, and if the rest of the full show is as clever and silly as these are, CST is going to have a massive crowd-pleaser on its hands. Meanwhile, if you feel like a nostalgic ride back to the time of classic 50s science fiction—and, come on, why wouldn’t you want this kind of pure escapism after the last sixteen months?—you should grab your headphones and spend a joyous 45 minutes indulging your appetite for supreme silliness.
We Are Out There can be viewed through June 20 at chicagoshakes.com.