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The Head That Wouldn't Die! Redux

Theater Artists Olympia revised their huge B-movie hit

Xander Layden as Dr. Bill Cortner and Jacqui Martin as Dixie Quigley in Theater Artists Olympia’s The Head That Wouldn’t Die! Redux. Photo credit: Locke and Key Photography

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At the end of 2014, Theater Artists Olympia produced a musical comedy called The Head That Wouldn't Die! which was probably the biggest hit of the season if not the biggest hit of TAO's entire history.

In my Dec. 9, 2014 review I wrote:

Theater Artists Olympia's original musical The Head That Wouldn't Die! is the love child of Mel Brooks and Ed Wood with midwifery by Pug Bujeaud. In other words, it is exactly what to expect by the homegrown theater company that brought you The Brain from Planet X, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Cannibal!! The Musical (twice). But this show elevates B-movie musical camp to a level far above those earlier TAO shows. Maybe those were mere warmups through which they learned how to do it.

And now they're doing it again: The Head That Wouldn't Die! Redux is even better this time around. For this show, TAO has added three new actors and new songs, the cheesy special effects are more spectacular (without sacrificing any of the delicious cheesiness), and the costumes by Orantrix Couture are ... well, I can't quite remember last year's costumes but I think some of the gorgeous gowns worn by Cassandra (Heather Christopher) are new and so was the burlesque costume worn by Dixie Quigley (Jacqui Martin). By the way, Orantrix Couture is Nani Poonani's company, and she is a star of Olympia's own Tush! Burlesque.

The Head, adapted by director and lyricist Pug Bujeaud and the TAO Collective, is based on a 1962 B-movie, The Brain That Wouldn't Die. The play is irreverent, fun-loving, and loaded with political and social satire. Politics and war, the medical profession and misogyny are thoroughly skewered.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Xander Layden) is a womanizer. So is his father, the elder Dr. Cortner (John Serembe). The younger Dr. Cortner is also an evil genius in the mold of Mr. Hyde and Dr. Frankenstein. And he's a really bad driver. Beware of Deadman's Curve.

I won't say any more about the plot at the risk of spoiling some of the many surprises. Suffice it to say there's a head in a pan, a "thing" in the closet, a body beautiful contest, lots of groaner puns and references to heads and hands, and some fabulous music with lyrics by Bujeaud and music by Marko Bujeaud, both with contributions by the collective.

The writing, music, costumes and special effects are all outstanding. TAO has gone overboard in giving this low-budget extravaganza the flavor and production values of a major musical production. And the acting - especially the comic timing and the portrayals of over-the-top characters - is fantastic.

Serembe is a professional actor with credits including roles in major television and movie productions. His professionalism shows in spades. His singing of "Abilene" is almost as funny as the famous "Putting on the Ritz" number in Young Frankenstein.

Layden, popular with local audiences for his work with TAO and Olympia Family Theater, turned in his best performance ever in the first production of The Head, and if anything he's even better this time. Bujeaud said about his character, "We track his fall from egoism into madness a bit more closely. It's a little darker ... but still in the end it's surprisingly sweet." I promise you, you'll love hating Layden's Bill.

I can't say enough about Vanessa Postil's performance as Jan. You'd never believe anyone could be so expressive without a body and without moving her head.

Also turning in award-worthy performances are Jesse Moore-Hendrickson as Kurt, Michael Christopher in various roles, and Heather Christopher as the sexy and mysterious Cassandra.

Do yourself a great big favor and go see The Head That Wouldn't Die! Redux.

The Head That Wouldn't Die! Redux, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. through Oct. 30, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. Tickets: $12-$15, Available at door night of show or online at brownpapertickets.com, pay what you can tonight (Oct. 8).

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