At the Aurora Fox, it’s an hour-long rocket ship of fun at the expense of L. Ron Hubbard
Amid the plethora of holiday musicals on tap around Colorado this season, here’s one that may well appeal to those who would rather avoid most of them.
Just opened at the Aurora Fox is A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, which has just a slight nod to the yuletide with a burst of “Jingle Bells” amidst a bunch of other up-tempo, satirical musical numbers about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.
The title may tell you most of what you need to know about this one plot-wise: a musical skewering of a wacky cult/religion/whatever featuring a cast comprised entirely of children. Just as most of what I know about Mormonism comes from The Book of Mormon, now my understanding of Scientology is based on this very funny, highly engaging one-act, one-hour sprint through the life of L. Ron Hubbard and his little experiment in gullibility.
Director Steven J. Burge really hits all the marks with this show, teasing a plethora of excellent performances out of his young cast. He’s aided by Mary Kay Dailey as music director (she also plays keys onstage) and Faith Angelise Goins-Simmons, who choreographed a lineup of high-energy pieces complementing the action.
The nine actors range in age from grammar school to high school and all come with a good deal of theatre experience. Throughout the show, every one of them finds multiple moments to shine as part of an ensemble that gives everyone plenty to do. I’m never one to underestimate kids, but I was struck by how intelligent and perceptive so many of their on-stage choices were. It’s a ton of fun to watch.
Kyle Jarrow, who wrote the book, music and lyrics and won an Obie for this one in 2004, gets most of the funny from the L. Ron Hubbard story simply by sticking to the facts. We learn about his exploits in World War II, his creation of Dianetics and other Scientology pillars like the e-meter, auditing, Thetans and the evil Xenu.
All of it is presented mostly as gospel, while the pageant construct allows for a lot of leeway in how the kids tackle the story. As a play within a play, there’s some infighting, especially around the decision to give one of the techies (Nathaniel Waite-Lutz) the role of Hubbard. Perhaps the eldest of the cast, Waite-Lutz transforms from a sullen teen sweeping the stage to a charismatic dynamo playing the guy who convinced a whole bunch of people to believe what to most of us sounds like a bunch of nonsense.
His nemesis, the kid who wanted the role, is Kieran O’Brien — a sharp young actor who plays multiple roles and delivers his lines with gleeful precision and a wry wit that’s emblematic of how all of the cast members portray adults: silly people no wiser for their age.
I loved the “Angelic Girl” characters, played by Macaelle Vasquez, Sirius Connally and Ezabela Zazueta. Part narrators, part onstage directors, part critics of the action, the trio sports Lady Liberty style headpieces and flowing robes as they deliver zingers left and right. The petite Vasquez delivers an outsized performance — a gifted comic actor who is clearly having a great time on stage.
That, in fact, is what drives the whole tone of this show: Everyone looks like they’re having a ton of fun, and I can just imagine what backstage looks like before and after. Burge’s effervescent presence can be seen throughout, with no comic stone unturned and a collective sense of joy established the moment Xavier Elie steps on stage for the pre-show announcements. (He later does a nice Tom Cruise.)
It’s silly, dark and weird in places and doesn’t shy away from some of the controversy and criminal behavior of Hubbard and other Scientology leaders. Mostly, though, it’s a relentlessly upbeat, funny musical that showcases the next generation of theatrical talent we have to look forward to in Colorado.