Two words: singing dinosaurs. That might be all you need to know about Triassic Parq: The Musical, the latest offbeat offering from San Francisco’s Ray of Light Theatre. But there’s a lot more than crooning velociraptors and belting tyrannosaurus rexes to this bawdy comedy by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo, which won awards for Best Musical at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and the L.A. Stage Alliance’s 2013 Ovation Awards.
Like the Michael Crichton novel and Steven Spielberg movie Jurassic Park, these dinosaurs aren’t in their natural time period, but reborn through genetic experimentation in the present day where they are unwisely housed in a theme park for people to gawk at, separated only by an electrified fence. (Annie Dauber’s set is dominated by sections of that thick fence that surely will protect the humans from the prehistoric beasts forever.) In fact, the dinosaurs of the musical are intended to be the same ones from the popular thriller, but as the dinos sing in the opening number, “We can’t call it Jurassic Park because we don’t want to be sued.”
The story bears hardly any resemblance to its source material, however, because Triassic Parq is told entirely from the point of view of the dinosaurs. There are no human characters except the obligatory narrator, Morgan Freeman (Alex Rodriguez — the role is seldom if ever played by an African American actor). He sticks around just long enough to explain that all the dinosaurs have been bred to be female to keep the population down, but a little bit of frog DNA in the mix may lead to a genetic mishap in which a dino born female may spontaneously change to male. But that probably won’t happen, except of course it totally will.
This dinosaur society is a theocracy presided over by a dogmatic pastor, the Velociraptor of Faith (David Naughton), who preaches the gospel of Lab, the mysterious deity that provides them with a steady supply of lambs to feast on. Every once in a while there’s an adorable lamb puppet whose cute cowering is all the more amusing because you know something terrible is going to happen to it any minute now.
When one of the dinosaurs experiences a spontaneous sex change, the community is thrown into turmoil. Our heroine, the Velociraptor of Innocence (Lewis Rawlinson, all girlish sincerity), needs to know what this all means, despite the pastor’s stern and increasingly desperate maternal warnings to just trust in Lab and don’t ask questions. She decides she has to seek out the exiled one, the Velociraptor of Science (Rodriguez, full of campy sass), to explain what the heck is going on. And how will Tyrannosaurus Kaitlyn (a fiery Monica Turner) take it when her best friend, T-Rex 2 (the pricelessly bawdy Chelsea Holifield), suddenly grows a “dude-stick”? Or will she even be the one taking it?
Director Alex Kirschner’s raucous staging keeps the gleefully profane humor flowing nicely throughout, and Pailet’s songs are high-energy and often hysterical. Led by musical director Robbie Cowan as Pianosaurus (unjustly shunned by the reptilian herd), a four-piece onstage rock band provides rock-solid accompaniment, despite occasional shaky vocals from Rawlinson on opening night.
There’s not much visual indication that the characters are dinosaurs. The artfully tattered glam costumes by Wendy Rose Kaufman don’t suggest reptiles so much as extras in a 1980s Adam Ant video, and Dan Paul Andres’ jubilantly stompy choreography only has infrequent nods to dinosaur posture (the actors occasionally hold their hands close to their chests like tiny dino arms, but they don’t make a point of it).
Whatever the species, the characters are fabulously entertaining, particularly the Exiled One and the volatile T-Rexes. There’s also a silent character, the aptly named Mime-a-saurus (Javi Harnly), who fills in as needed to act as a seat or play the role of an innocent cow.
It’s a delightfully silly show that just gets sillier, and at 90 minutes it’s just about the right length. I think it’s safe to say it’s the funniest theological dinosaur sex comedy you’re likely to see this year. And if it’s not, the world must be an even more wonderful place than we thought.
Triassic Parq: The Musical runs through June 28, 2014 at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit rayoflighttheatre.com.
All photos by Erik Scanlon.