The sci-fi musical is a rare beast, but geeky musicals are getting a little more common each year. The New York Musical Theater Festival has given audiences a few shows that address nerdy themes, including last year’s Re-Animator, and this year their nerdiest show is Cloned!, a show that combines A Comedy of Errors with that episode of Star Trek where the transporter malfunctions and create two Captain Kirks.
The team behind this energetic musical farce aren’t concerned with making any contributions to science fiction, though. The book and lyrics (By Jacey Powers and Dan Wolpow) make very little attempt to analyze the impact that cloning could have society. Instead they’ve made a zany, campy comedy that throws issues of scientific ethics to the wind, and focuses on having fun with sci-fi tropes like cloning and teleportation.
Wally is a brilliant scientist who is on the cusp of discovering the secrets of teleportation. With the help of a mysterious journal, he succeeds in getting his teleportation chamber to work. Or does he? Through a wacky series of mishaps, Wally accidentally creates a duplicate of himself, but neither he nor his duplicate are aware of the other’s existence.
Duplicating someone through a transporter isn’t exactly “cloning” but the semantics hardly matters when the audience gets to watch Alex Goley and Eric Mann play Wally and “Clone Wally” opposite each other. The actors aren’t twins, but they do bear a strong resemblance to each other, and are styled and costumed in the same way. It’s a very effective illusion, and the two actors have some terrific moments when debating which of them is the “Real” Wally.
Of course, as a musical, there are several song and dance duets between the two duplicates, including a soft shoe number called “Me And My Clone” and an outlandish scene where the Wallies try to convince a doddering old lady that one of them is from Sweden (With silly accents and yodeling).
A key factor in the story is that Wally isn’t such a nice guy. He’s arrogant, and so focused on his work that he can’t appreciate the people around him. When confronted with an identical copy of himself, he begins to realize that he’s kind of a jerk.
There’s also a romance story between Wally and his (Their) friend Isabella (Played by Melanie Beck). Isabella has had a crush on Wally for years, but he’s been too blinded by scientific ambition to notice her, or her contributions to his discoveries. This romantic subplot provides most of the drama as each of the Wallies proceeds to screw things up with Isabella.
The weakest moments are a subplot about North Korean spies who are trying to steal Wally’s invention. It’s done in the manner of a madcap farce from the 60’s, and there are some fun moments as an evil scientist and a half-hearted commie conspire against Wally. However, the villains are generally harmless and incompetent, so this subplot doesn’t generate much tension. Tony Romero does get quite a few laughs as a reluctant servant of Korea’s “Dear Fearless Leader”, but audiences will be much more concerned about Wally and Isabella sorting out their relationship (Which grows increasing complicated as the story progresses).
It’s set in 1993, and this prevents the characters from solving the rampant misunderstandings via a simple cell phone call. Another 90’s gag involves the characters sneaking into a university computer lab so that they can that new-fangled internet. There’s also a major plot line centered on the 1992 movie Basic Instinct, including an appearance by Sharon Stone (Played by a scene-stealing Crystal Kellog).
There are quite a few fun songs in the first act, but as the climax approaches, the show seems to forget that it’s a musical, with a long stretch between the second-to-last song, and the big finale. This is exacerbated by the stream of subplots and paradigm shifts that get resolved in a lengthy scene right before the finale.
Cloned! is a manic, if insubstantial show. Something for lovers of madcap farce rather than in-depth examinations of the sort of themes explored in Orphan Black and other clone-centric tales. Cloned! just ended its run at the New York Musical Theater Festival, but information on upcoming productions can be found at www.clonedthemusical.com.