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Earthlings in comedic space

By Courtney Powell

Sept. 30, 2008 9:45 p.m.

For some, the best things in life are free.

According to “Earth Sucks! A Cosmic Rock Musical,” the best things in life are those that are out of the ordinary. Opening this weekend at the Art/Works Theatre in Hollywood, “Earth Sucks” will no doubt be raising a few eyebrows.

The unusual plot is only the beginning of the various components that make up this unique musical that runs from Oct. 4 through Nov. 2. Set in modern day America, “Earth Sucks” follows a young girl, Echo Bell, as she deals with her frustration toward Earth life and eventually finds herself touring the galaxy with an alien rock and roll band while fighting an evil intergalactic pop star.

Obviously, it seems outlandish. It should since the writer, Jonas Oppenheim, who is also the composer as well as the director, received his inspiration from two very unusual sources.

“The idea came to me from two things: the Carpenters’ version of “˜Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ and watching the David Bowie “˜Ziggy Stardust’ concert,” Oppenheim said.

His unusual inspiration speaks to the way in which the musical utilizes elaborate sets, a variety of musical genres and a plethora of quirky characters in order to set a tone of support for individuality. All of these components add up to a plot that is meant to both entertain and teach. Producer Joel Farkas is proud of the message that he says comes through all of the alien musical numbers and intergalactic drama.

“The plot is just a device to show the universality of love and human desire that is common to all of us,” he said. “It’s the importance of finding a connection in our fragmented society.”

Oppenheim has managed to bring a team of actors together who believe in this message enough to bring it alive on stage. Among his crew is the UCLA alum and actor in the musical, Christopher Fairbanks. Fairbanks, as well as the rest of the cast and crew, has faith in the ridiculousness of the plot to solidify the more important overarching themes.

“Jonas can weave so many greater issues into the story. It’s goofy and entertaining, but it’s got some meat to it as to what we all deal with here on Earth,” he said.

Fairbanks, who plays Max Bell, the father of the main character, received his M.F.A from the UCLA theater department and credits his experience there with his skills as an actor in “Earth Sucks.”

“What was great about my experience at UCLA is that there’s such a wide variety of instructors who approach teaching in a wide variety of ways,” he said. “It was really helpful to not be stuck in a particular style.”

Along with the impressive cast that work alongside Fairbanks, “Earth Sucks” also boasts an off-kilter and interconnected group of local L.A. musicians that all use music as an expression of the greater lessons in life, much like the musical itself.

These musicians, handpicked by Oppenheim himself, are the force behind the eclectic array of music genres within the production. The fact that every song in every scene has a different and unique sound to it enforces Oppenheim’s message that individuality is what really connects us all together.

According to Fairbanks, who sings his own “goth-whispery” ballad during the show, believes that “the music never falls into one category. Oppenheim is asking people to have their individuality and be who they are, and the show actually does that.”

Ultimately, the goal of the musical isn’t just to understand greater life lessons. For Oppenheim, the best result would be if the audience enjoyed themselves.

“If you like comedy and you like rock and roll music, you’ll love this,” he said.

After all, his confidence in the audience’s enjoyment of these two components was the reason he began the project in the first place ““ besides some help from the Carpenters and David Bowie. Having fun and making people laugh at their own goofy and bizarre existence is what, to Oppenheim, will benefit us all in the end.

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Courtney Powell
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