Review: ‘Weird Romance’ at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s MAD Theater

There’s a powerful scene in MAD Theater’s Weird Romance in which a computer-simulated woman, who may or may not contain a reincarnated spirit, bemoans the precarious fate of her newly born child – in a past life. Such is the speculative nature of this decidedly off-beat, nerd-pleasing, and entertaining science fiction musical, directed by Randy Barth.

The cast of Weird Romance. Photo by Scott Hull.

The musical is composed of two separate stories within one show. Act I: The Girl Who Was Plugged In, dealt with themes of appearance versus reality and the obsession with celebrity culture. Act II: Her Pilgrim Soul asked the question: Do you fall in love with a person’s spirit, or their outer essence?

First produced in 1992, Weird Romance had a convoluted path to production. As Barth wrote, “Alan Menken wrote the musical shortly after his successes with Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Alan Brennert and David Spence based the Act I book on a novelette by James Tiptree Jr., which was in fact a pen name of Alice B. Sheldon, and which won a Hugo Award in 1974. The book of Act II is by Alan Brennert and appeared in the first season of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In took place in a world in which advertising has been outlawed and GTX, the 8th largest industrial firm in America, sought to capitalize on a celebrity-crazed culture. GTX was dominated by Isham, played with authority by MAD veteran Don Mitchell. Sporting a bull’s head bolo tie, thanks to Costume Designer Hillary Glass, Mitchell brought a decidedly intimidating tone to his role of Isham.

“Stop and See Me,” featured inspired singing and acting by Mary Estacion as homeless woman Philadelphia Burke aka P. Burke, who GTX sought to transform into a new person through the use of a weird kind of science. Estacion brought emotion to her singing, especially with the lyric “I wish for no more fear.” (Hope Shapiro will play P. Burke on the May 18th and 19th performances.)

Sara Nolan Collins played Delphi, who inhabited the body of P. Burke thanks to GTX scientist Joe, played by the fantastic Shawn Perry. I loved the number “Feeling No Pain” by Collins and Perry; the song featured the moving lyric ”end of all hurt, end of all pain.” Aside from Collins’ beautiful vocals, the scene was well served by her dancing. The dance moves fit the scene and the character of Delphi, thanks to Choreographer Betsy Edwards.

The cast of Weird Romance. Photo by Scott Hull.

Delphi, was interviewed by a gang of reporters, Bye Bye Birdie style, in the bright little number “Pop! Flash!” in which Collins again sported superior vocals. It was clear in that scene that Isham was about pushing product and creating a celebrity commodity.

As a romance budded between Isham’s son Paul (Sean Morton) and Delphi, Perry’s Joe sang well in “No One Can Do.” From there, Collins’ Delphi and Estacion’s P. Burke had a dynamite duet in “Worth It.”

Act II: Her Pilgrim Soul told the story of a scientist, Kevin Drayton (Perry) who created and fell in love with his computer-simulated creation Nola. That story prominently featured the vocals of Morton as Daniel, Drayton’s assistant; Morton’s vocals lifted the numbers “Happy in Your Work” and “Need to Know.” Perry excelled in “My Orderly World” and “You Remember.”

Cathy Barth brought pathos and passion to her role as the computer simulation, Nola. Barth, who was in Weird Romance before, portrayed a character that suffered from an accelerated aging process that saw her wear many costumes including a smart, pink dress, again thanks to Glass.

Collins, who played Drayton’s wife Carol, and Perry dueted nicely in “Another Woman,” as Drayton grew closer to the mysterious Nola. Penny Martin and Barth stood out in “Pressing Onward, Moving Forward,” singing that tune with an inspiring style. Shapiro as Rebecca, Carol’s friend, and Collins dueted in the comical song “A Man.” That scene featured an apropos sculpture created by Judith Kornett.

The ensemble was talent-stocked with the show’s Producer Eliot Malumuth as Ruskin, a reporter, and a mugger; Katrina Jackson as Zanth, a technician, and a bride; Steve Leete as computer-simulated crooner Johnny Beaumont; and Melanie Pino-Elliot as Shannara, Leslie, and assorted other roles.

Every song was played beautifully, thanks to Music Director Bob Hanisch. Richard Atha-Nicholls’ and Robert Gersten’s percussion, John McCloskey’s bass, and Susan Breon’s keyboard helped punctuate the more upbeat tunes. I loved the bleeding-edge computer graphics, edited by Jackson and Barth, on an iPad that Perry carried. Weird Romance is an intriguing mixture of music, mystique, and speculative fiction, good for geeks and musical-lovers.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a ten-minute intermission.

Weird Romance plays through May 19, 2018, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s MAD Theater – Barney & Bea Recreation Center, 9998 Good Luck Road, in Glenn Dale, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.