Capital City Theatre’s latest, "Shining in Misery," is a hysterical paean to the Master of Horror.
It’s been said that the line between horror and comedy is razor thin, but it’s a lot less difficult to navigate it you just embrace the chaos and ignore it completely. That’s the key to the rollicking success of “Shining in Misery: A King-Sized Parody,” Capital City Theatre’s uproarious musical skewering the Master of Horror — and a hell of a lot more besides.
You can’t successfully send something up if you don’t know it and love it, and it’s clear that writers Mark-Eugene Garcia and Colleen Duvall, as well as composer and Cap City Artistic Director Andrew Abrams have been steeping in King’s particular brand of horror for decades. This show has more clever puns than “It” and “The Stand" have pages, and almost all of them land directly on your bag of (funny) bones.
As the title proclaims, the show centers on two of King’s best-known works. Foul-mouthed Jack (Jonathan Wagner) and wide-eyed Wendy (Madeline Glenn Thomas) Torrance have dragged their supernaturally touched son Danny (played by adult actor Benji Heying, who nails the dissonant/precocious vibe wonderfully) to the Overlook Hotel. This time, the murderous/aw-shucks Annie Wilkes (Gail Becker) is on hand as Danny’s nanny, warbling about a “Greener Mile.” On the drive, they crash into the famous writer Paul Sheldon (Cody Gerszewski), who has no idea his car accident is about to be the least of his problems.
Just like in the book. The Overlook’s haunted as hell, of course, by those creepy twins in blue dresses (played by Thomas and Erin McConnell), but also by an Avengers-like grab bag of King creations: Pennywise (Alex Gossard), Barlow, the vampire from “Salem’s Lot” (Cody Gersezski) and for some absolutely ridiculous reason, Rose the Hat from “Doctor Sleep,” (Thomas again) the sequel to “The Shining.” They’re all on hand to swipe Danny’s powers and pile up even more laughs.
In the space of a few hours, the show manages to name-check just about every one of King’s books, movies, short stories and TV shows, including some truly deep cuts. (“Storm of the Century,” the fair-to-mostly-terrible, made-for-TV series from 1999? Now that’s obscure.) Sometimes the books are the subject of puns — like when we learn that Paul was driving a 1958 Plymouth Fury when he crashed, or when a blood-soaked Carrie makes a brief lobby cameo. Other times, they pop up randomly in song lyrics, breezing by in blink-and-you-miss-it fashion. Instead of camping on the edge of your seat, you’ll find yourself poised on your toes, trying to somehow catch them all. It’s the kind of touch that makes you want to see this show more than once — and makes you wish it were running more than two weekends. (The show closes March 5.)
Parodying King is only part of the fun, here — which is probably a good thing for the members of the audience who aren’t obsessed with his 70-plus novels. Popular musicals also take it on the chin. Becker’s imperious nurse is given the backstory from Broadway’s “Annie.” With the suddenness of a jump-scare, the show veers into a second-act send-up of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which, given that a national touring company was staging the actual show upstairs in Overture Hall during the show’s opening weekend, was a brilliant meta moment. And mashing up a song like “It’s the Hard Knock Life” with King’s “Children of the Corn” is a stroke of pure comedy genius. The cast leans into the songs like Annie wielding an axe. Thomas, who serves as the show’s most grounded element, also sports the show’s strongest voice.
Longtime fans of King know his most glaring weakness as an author has always been his inability to stick the landing in his novels, so it’s not surprising that the show flags (but not Flaggs) a bit down the stretch. Some characters vanish from the proceedings altogether because the lean cast simply can’t be in two places at once. The song “Back to Dick” features great chemistry between McConnell and Jason Williams, playing Dick Halloran, but it trades cleverness for double-entendre crudity and doesn’t match the show’s other highlights.
“Shining in Misery” is one of the first entries in World Premiere Wisconsin, a three-month long showcase of original works written and created by Wisconsin theater companies across the state. If all the plays are even half as good as this one, we’re going to need to lobby to make WPW an annual event.
Writer/Actor/Storyteller. Theatre Maker. Husband. Bad Hombre. Cat Taunter.