I first met Jason Powell in the comments to this blog, and of course you all know he became the site's major Guest Blogger -- in fact you can hardly call him a guest anymore, as the place is now more his than mine. Well now I have met him in person. He came to New York from Milwaukee because his science fiction musical -- Invader? I Hardly Know Her -- was accepted to the New York City Fringe Festival. A few years ago Mich Montgomery, who I also met in the comments of this blog, and who also became a guest blogger, had a play accepted to the Fringe Festival: Triumph of the Underdog. Since he lives in New York, he was able to give Jason some advice, and he and I went to see the final performance of Jason's musical -- a musical Jason wrote both the words and music for, and also has the lead role in, where, yes, he sings, and sings well.
I hate musicals. I went to a performing arts high school for choir, and listened to way too many musicals as a kid, so I am kind of allergic to them now. Phantom and Les Mis and Cats and all that. Just like when I saw Mitch's Triumph of the Underdog at the Fringe festival I went in doing something obligatory for a guy I knew, was not at all sure what I thought about it for the first 15 minutes or so, then got into the grove of it, then had a great time.
Just as in Mitch's Triumph of the Underdog the plot of Invader is absolutely not the point. In both, the world is threatened by extinction by a meteor and an extra-dimensional menace respectively, but in both what the doom of the world really heralds is a chance to geek out. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. You know that moment on the Simpsons, in one of the Halloween episodes, where the meteor is heading at comic book guy and the last thing he says is "I have wasted my life"? Both Mitch's Triumph and Jason's Invader reject that idea. I think both these guys, staring down the barrel of extinction, would ultimately feel like they had had great lives. Because as we all know, all this geeky bullshit matters, deep down. Because happiness matters.
Mitch's protagonist is delivering a lecture about pop culture and mythology, as the world is about to die -- that is his geek out. Powell's play is about a guy who finds out on his wedding day that his bride is an alien and they have to go to space to stop a 5th dimensional force from destroying the world. Powell's geek out is about sexy women and vocabulary. You are not at all surprised that this is a guy who could write 280 blogs about Claremont's X-Men, because wow does he love sexy powerful women and vocabulary. Not even as separate things. Powell's sexy powerful women use great vocabulary just about all the time. The bride has sexy super-agent bridesmaids, one of whom gets into a lesbian affair with a former female lover of the bride, and they all talk like this, while dressed as a sexy cowgirl, a sexy school girl, a sexy Pocahontas type, and a sexy French maid, all dancing:
It’s true that we’re all ravishing creatures,
The kind that cause bold men to give chase.
We’re fortunate to have flawless features;
We’re blessed to have such feminine grace.
I’m glad that in this shallow society,
I occupy so privileged a place.
But let me tell you, in all sobriety,
I’m not just another pretty face.
She’s not just another pretty face.
Now I know I’m extremely curvaceous.
I’m hot in leather; lovely in lace.
Lace lace lace lace lace lace
My schoolgirl garb might seem ostentatious,
Designed to cause your heartbeat to race.
Race race race race race race
And granted, on my whole physicality,
Of imperfection there’s not a trace.
Trace trace trace trace trace trace
But let me tell you, in actuality,
I’m not just another pretty face.
She’s not just another pretty face.
This fetching physiognomy
Is a mind
Immersed in physics and astronomy.
And though I’m built like an ecdysiast,
My brain’s one of the busiest, Aaaaaah
Always cogitating, contemplating, calculating
Even while my figure’s got the fellas salivating.
And not only am I among the planet’s very smartest,
I’m a classical musician and a black-belt martial artist.
I can outshoot any marksman; I can out-fly any ace.
Yes, I’m more than a pretty face!
When David Mamet's mixed martial arts movie Redbelt came out I said I was going to love it because all I really want from movies is fancy poetic dialogue and violence (which is also why my favorite movie is Kill Bill). It is girls who kiss girls and use words like "ecdysiast," for Powell. And for me too, from now on. I have written two books. Alone. Jason Powell, in Wisconsin, wrote a science fiction musical where pretty girls make out with each other and him. Then he came to New York City and cast VERY attractive, very talented, actresses in all the parts. The man is a genius, before you even get to the word play and the music.
The strong women and the vocabulary are not the only places you see Claremont's influence on Powell -- he also makes little nods to Claremont, as a robot character refers to himself as "This Unit" like a good Sentinel. In the conclusion of the story the 5th dimensional menace possesses someone, and when attacked burns out the body and jumps to the body of the attacker, then again, then again, then again, until it goes for a robot at which point is gets trapped there by a kill switch. Shades of Claremont's Proteus abound.
Jason Powell and I are also die hard fans of Newsradio, which we both quote with abandon. When I got married, my wife and I quoted Newsradio in our vows (in the fifth season Lisa marries Johnny Johnson, who writes his own, beautiful vows about how she is his rose; Lisa, who did not know they were writing their own vows, improvises with "You are my sunshine ... my only sunshine ... and heybabeyourockmyworld." That was what my wife said when we were married, and maybe one person in the audience noticed).
In Invader one of Powell's character's says of her effeminate robot, "He's indispensable!" which is what Phil Hartman says about his "gentleman's gentleman." Later in the play the same character says "We are dealing with a dimension much higher than three or four." Someone asks, "How high exactly?" And she says "Five." Which Powell admits is a direct steal from the White Noise episode of Newsradio.
And if you think that is an obscure in-joke, nothing could be more obscure, or please me more, than one character having gotten something out of my book on superheroes:
Of the reference books
Worth the slightest of looks,
I’m the latest and greatest revision.
In the parlance of Bloom,
I’m the poet in whom
One can find other poets’ misprision.
What's funny is that while you can see the influence of so many things that Powell loves in his musical, you can also see the influence of one thing he elsewhere hates: Joss Whedon. Whedon of course did a musical episode of Buffy and created the webisode musical Dr Horrible. Powell, like Whedon, is bringing the musical to sci-fi geek outs, and like Whedon he loves to deflate the ridiculousness going on: at one point one of his characters, a sexy Indian, sings:
Then there is I,
I don’t think you’ll deny,
I’m a pretty far cry
From any semblance of what you’d call political correctness.
But I admit, I’ve come to expect this.
Still, come on, a blonde girl dressed as a Native?
Couldn’t somebody have been a bit more creative?
He even breaks the fourth wall more explicitly at the end of act one, whose final words are "Don't worry this will make more sense in act 2!"
But my favorite thing about Invader is the rhymes. Claremont may have a great vocabulary, but Powell rhymes his great vocabulary with other great vocabulary:
The world will never be the same.
Who's to blame?
An old lady's been possessed.
My fiancee's extra-terrest-
Reality has just been turned upon its ear.
And I fear
The worst is yet to come.
My brain is starting to go numb.
It isn't right; it isn't fair.
It bends the rules of karma.
Of lousy breaks, you've had your share.
You nearly bought the farm; a
Casual observer would say
That for good luck, you're overdue.
But instead -- to your extreme dismay --
Someone drops the other shoe.
"Extra-terrest-Reality" is a nice play on words; the fact that before it is over it is rhymed with "possessed" makes it doubly good. There are a lot of things you can rhyme with "Karma" including "Samba" and "magma" -- but "farm; a (casual observer)" is fantastic good fun, as is the whole show.