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'Alien Queen: The Concert' rocks theatrical comedy

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Jaclyn Keough as Hero Alien vert.jpgFreddie Mercury sang many Queen songs with the fierce determination of someone desperate to keep themselves alive amid dire circumstances. He probably wasn't thinking about space aliens -- but, hey, that's not exactly a bad motivation.

"To watch Sigourney Weaver singing 'Keep Yourself Alive' as she's running with a cat down the hallway -- it's just funny!" says Scott Bradley, the first half of the inventive Scooty & JoJo musical theater team (with Jonny Stax). "And it's beautiful, and the music's stunning."

The duo's latest onstage movie-music mash-up combines the storyline from the first two "Alien" movies with the aptly bombastic rock music of Queen. It's not a completely otherworldy idea; Queen's music is the only thing most folks still respect from "Flash Gordon," after all.

Like their previous productions -- from "Carpenters Halloween" (John Carpenter's horror classic scored with the Carpenters' sunny tunes) to "Tran: The Atari Musical" (Scott describes as a gender-bending "sex-farce version of 'Tron' with rock music from 1982") -- "Alien Queen" began life as a more traditional musical theater piece with puppets. Now it's morphed into a full-on rock experience as "Alien Queen: The Concert," returning for another engagement this weekend at Metro.

'ALIEN QUEEN: THE CONCERT'
with Battlestar Fantastica and DJ Boy Wonder
• 10 p.m. Dec. 10
• Metro, 3730 N. Clark
• Tickets, $16-$30, (800) 514-ETIX, metrochicago.com

The characters, some of them puppets, still act out scenes from the films. Instead of a visual director creating videos for the songs, Scooty & JoJo basically create onstage set pieces based on the movie material. But where "Carpenters Halloween" premiered with a lone keyboard player practically in the wings, "Alien Queen" now boasts a 10-piece rock band at center stage.

It's less musical theater dinosaur, more ironic Tributosaurus.

"In creating this one, you know, I have the whole Queen catalog at home -- I love Queen -- and I was listening to it all shuffled around when 'March of the Black Queen' came on," Bradley says of the of the 1974 song ("Take this, take that / bring them down to size").

"I just suddenly saw the ['Alien'] fight scene in my head with the power loader. I thought, hmmm, what else could we do here?"

Plenty, it turns out. As big-noggin aliens pick off human soldiers, they sing "Another One Bites the Dust." Young Newt, a puppet, sings "Someone to Love." Even the newborn alien gets a song, singing "Don't Stop Me Now" ("I feel alive and the world it's turning inside out!") fresh from Kane's tummy.

The creative alien puppets were designed by Jabberwocky Marionettes, with additional costumes by Anna Glowacki.

"Queen works amazingly well for this story," adds the show's star, Ryan Lanning. "'Death on Two Legs' -- you wouldn't believe how perfectly that's used here."

Ryan Lanning as Ridley horiz.jpg

Lanning (above), a Jeff Award-winning actor, plays Weaver's original role among a cast rife with other gender-crossing parts. He says he couldn't imagine a more rock and roll personality to portray.

"I was grateful [in preparing] because Sigourney Weaver actually has a very sing-song way of speaking, which was fantastic for the songs," Lanning says. "Plus, I get to drop it a bit for the concert version and rock out. Her attitude is very rockish. She kicks some ass."

"I wanted to get at this androgynous sense you get from Sigourney Weaver -- and from Freddie Mercury, really," Bradley says of casting the role. "Freddie Mercury slipped in and out of drag, and knowing that Ridley Scott originally wrote the character of Ripley for a male but it was cast as female -- that made her the first real female hero of an action/sci-fi film and projected this masculine persona that couldn't be more rock and roll."

Moving the campy show into Metro, where it's played a couple of times this year, meant amping up those rock aspects.

"We've pulled back a lot of the staging to allow for more music and actually for more fun," says musician and the show's arranger Nick Davio. "The band is fully on stage and part of the action."

Scooty & JoJo shows have achieved one thing for certain: They bring theater and comedy into venues not otherwise producing it. "Carpenters Halloween" began life in Mary's Attic, a bar over an Andersonville hamburger chain. Other shows have taken place at The Spot sports bar, the Circuit nightclub and the dance floor of Excalibur.

What might come next from Scooty & JoJo?

"I want to do 'Braveheart,'" Bradley says. That would be the Mel Gibson film with the music of Heart, of course. "And I've tinkered with 'Backstreet Boyz n the Hood.'"

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on December 8, 2011 12:00 PM.

Music reviews: Roots, Woody Guthrie, Smiths, more was the previous entry in this blog.

More Christmas music from Josh Caterer, Polyphonic Spree, Killers, Tim McGraw, 'Christmas Club' is the next entry in this blog.

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