Performing Arts

Theater Review: ‘It Came From Outer Space’

A hilarious escapist romp
BY Betty Mohr TIMEJuly 5, 2022 PRINT

CHICAGO—Science fiction first captured the public’s imagination during the 1950s and has continued in popularity with films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Jurassic Park,” “Armageddon,” “Star Wars,” and in TV series such as “Star Trek,” “Third Rock from the Sun,” “Lost in Space,” and many others.

That may be why, when Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair attended a film festival and watched a rerun of one of the first movies in the 3D genre, the 1953 sci-fi film “It Came From Outer Space,” they got the idea to reimagine the classic sci-fi flick as a musical comedy. Now, their idea has come to fruition in a frolicsome and imaginative world-premiere entertainment at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Kinosian and Blair have succeeded in creating a hilarious escapist romp that makes fun of Hollywood’s old sci-fi B movies. For those who have seen the “It Came From Outer Space” flick, which was based on a Ray Bradbury story, the show will be a blast, but you don’t have to see the movie to laugh at its machinations and madcap stunts. It’s a riot in its own right.

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Some of the cast: (L–R) Maizie (Ann Delaney), Borney (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones), and George (Alex Goodrich). (Liz Lauren)

Well directed by Laura Braza, the play opens on astronomer John Putnam, a large-city scientist, and his fiancée, Ellen Fields, a small-town teacher. They are gazing at the stars through a telescope in the desert of Sand Rock, Arizona, as they talk about their future together. Suddenly, they witness the fiery crash of a meteorite.

John rushes in the direction of the fireball and arrives in time to see aliens and a spaceship. He runs to tell the sheriff and others in the small town of his discovery and to alert them to prepare for an otherworldly invasion.

Of course, nobody believes him and he becomes the brunt of jokes. That doesn’t deter John who realizes that the aliens are using the bodies of the townspeople for their own purpose, and he becomes determined to save the planet from the intruders.

With book and music by Kinosian and book and lyrics by Blair, the comedy gets wackier as it goes along. Featuring original songs such as “If the Humans Only Knew,” “We Are Out There,” and the most exhilarating, upbeat of the songs, “I Can’t Figure Out Men,” are not only spirited melodies, but add to the goofy hysterics.

Out of This World Cast and Crew

It’s not just that the story has been adapted with a humorous Monty Python-style wit, but the performances in the show are wonderfully inventive and captivating.

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John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones) and Ellen Fields (Jaye Ladymore) look to the stars on a lovely evening. (Liz Lauren)

Christopher Kale Jones as John does a terrific imitation of an overconfident William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk in “Star Trek,” and Jaye Ladymore as Ellen is a hoot when she says she may have to step back from their relationship and at the same time takes a physical step back.

In addition, others in the talented cast (Alex Goodrich, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Sharriese Y. Hamilton, and Ann Delaney) are fantastic as they portray a range of people in the town and then transform their bodies and their voices to suggest that aliens have taken them over.

At one point, the entire cast is electrified as they move about in robot-like synchronization suggesting the alien takeover. In a way, the show recalls another movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), in which extraterrestrials invade the bodies of earthlings the moment the humans fall asleep.

The scenic design by Scott Davis puts us right into an orange desert setting, complete with cactus and telephone poles against extravagant sky projections by video-projection designers Rasean Davonté Johnson and Michael Salvatore Commendatore. These complete the eerie landscape of a 3D movie set. Furthermore, explosive bursts of lights by lighting designer Heather Sparling realistically suggest the landing of a flying saucer.

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(L–R) George (Alex Goodrich), Borney (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones), and Maizie (Ann Delaney) have an extraterrestrial encounter. (Liz Lauren)

Moreover, the extraterrestrial dress by costume designer Mieka Van Der Ploeg are so wild that when the unearthly creatures finally turn up, the audience can’t stop laughing. Indeed, who couldn’t help but laugh as the one-eyed and green-tentacled outer space invaders slithered onto the stage.

“It Came From Outer Space” is the delightfully lighthearted show of the summer season.  It’s a welcome relief from the too serious events of today, and recalls not only a more naïve time of movie-making but also a simpler, nostalgic time in America.

‘It Came From Outer Space’
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 E. Grand Ave. at Navy Pier, Chicago
Tickets: 312-595-5600 or ChicagoShakes.com
Runs: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission)
Closes: July 24, 2022

Betty Mohr
As an arts writer and movie/theater/opera critic, Betty Mohr has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Australian, The Dramatist, the SouthtownStar, the Post Tribune, The Herald News, The Globe and Mail in Toronto, and other publications.
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