Pest Control, the Musical

Imagine Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Little Shop of Horrors. Now, throw in cockroaches, cloak & dagger CIA types, hitmen, a love story and lots of rock, rap and dancing and youíve got an idea of what youíre in for with Pest Control, the Musical.

Playing at the NoHo Arts Center through June 15, Pest Control is a hallucinogenic experience. My mouth literally hurt from laughing for two-and-a-half hours straight.

The play has its roots in a novel by my fellow L.A. crime writer Bill Fitzhugh in which a bug exterminator is mistaken for a hit man and hired to kill a South American dictator. Not your typical musical fare, but the supple and genre-busting minds of James J. Mellon (director) and John J. Moores, Jr. (who adapted the book) saw an ideal vehicle which they hope eventually to ride to Broadway. Word is out about the play, which garnered a rave in the L.A. Weekly and even grudging praise from the Los Angeles Times.

Another cool thing is that itís perfect for kids. (Those below nine might find it too spooky, and there are a few bad words and a coke-snorting scene if thatís an issue). My brave friend Rachel and I took seven boys (ages 10-12) and the unanimous tween verdict was: awesome.

While the initial appeal was groovy cockroach costumes, the showís constant action, creativity and high energy kept them spellbound. Because itís only a 99-seat theater, the actors came into the lobby afterward and we got a chance to talk to them.

Fitzhugh himself will be doing an audience talkback after this Saturday nightís (June 7th) show, but I thought Iíd get the ball rolling here with a few questions.

Q: What was the genesis of your crime novel becoming a musical?

A: A little less than a year ago I got an email from an attorney inquiring about the stage rights. I looked at my Warner Brothers contract and found that I had the stage rights (trust me, it never crossed my mind that someone would want these). My understanding is that [playwright] John J. Moores read the book ten years ago and wanted to make something of it ever since. And boy did he. The guy is amazing."

Q: How long did it take?

A: These guys (Canum Entertainment) move fast. Whereas Warner Brothers has owned the film rights for over a decade without shooting so much as a foot of film, Canum Entertainment in association with Open At The Top Theatre Company, had the world premier ready less than a year after signing the contract. The plan, as I understand it, is that after this initial run, is to do a rewrite, adding songs, deleting songs, reworking the story, etc. Then they'll put it up again, run it a while, then take it back to do a final polish before trying to take it to Broadway.

Q: How much input did you have?

A: Not counting the book, zero. Zip. Nada. This was all the work of Melon, Moores, and the incredible people they hired to arrange the compositions of Vladimir Shainskiy. And of course the musicians and the actors and the lighting people and the costume designer and everybody else involved."

Q: What do you think of it?

A: I love it. I agree with the producers that it's not quite there. But I think it's on a very solid foundation and a good polish will put it over the top. They insist this is only a workshop version of the show, that it will expand and become more elaborate as they develop it for Broadway. I was expecting a cast of talented but unknown actors of which there is no shortage in Los Angeles. Instead I got Cleavant Derricks who won the Tony Award (and the Drama Desk Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award) for creating the role of James Thunder Early in "Dreamgirls" on Broadway. All the other main actors (Darren Ritchie, Beth Malone, Joanna Glushak) are Broadway pros as well.

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