MAGNA — What do you get when you take a crew of underachieving high school students, a lovers’ quarrel, a family-owned wax museum, an evil landlord, and a cursed Egyptian bracelet? The answer is 90 minutes of fast-paced comedy, and you can find it at The Empress Theatre’s production of The Night at the Wax Museum.
The stage opens on a group of high school students who, having failed history, will be making up the credit by volunteering at a wax museum. Breakfast Club-style, each student has his own stereotypical shtick: the jock (Travis Hymas), the bookworm (Reeve Sikalis), the ladies’ man (Hayden Hill), the video gamer (Johnathan Sheen), and the slackers (Sammi Arsuffi and Megan Carpentier). The wax museum is operated by Julene and Jolene Fairchild (Melanie Jayne Turner & Ruth McNabb), aunts to the students’ history teacher, Miss Fairchild (Gabriela Flores). And as it just so happens, the spinster Fairchild sisters and their co-owners (JoAnne Galloway & Judy McKinlay) have hired Miss Fairchild’s former high school sweetheart, Skip (Colin Doxey), as handyman at the wax museum.
The play’s next layer of drama is that the wax museum’s landlady, whose very name—Violet Sneed (Nancy Jensen)—bespeaks inherent evil, along with her son Jasper (Dillon O’Kelley) are on a mission to evict the wax museum so they can build a shopping mall in its place. Amidst all this tension, Jasper’s girlfriend (Sasha Nugter) removes a gold bracelet from the wax Cleopatra’s arm and discovers an inscription, the reading of which unwittingly brings all the wax statues to life. MAYHEM! Cleopatra and Henry VIII (Heather and Bryan McNabb) are quickly lured in by each other’s charms and resources, but Anne Boleyn (Megan Brown) refuses to be replaced so easily a second time. Soon, rumor of a treasure spreads among all the money-grubbing historical figures, and the animate statues break into factions of seafarers versus Old Westerners as Anne Bonny (Ryann Ruiz), Mary Read (Sara Marler), Madame Ching (Hailey Carter), Blackbeard (Marcus Rood), and another pirate (Tyler Sweeney) match arms against Butch Cassidy (Travis Olson), the Sundance Kid (Tom Slade), Pancho Villa (Steve Hedman) and Calamity Jane (Sheridan Walk).
Obviously this play had a lot going on all at once, and I can’t praise director Michele Brown enough for the show’s pacing. The show is a lighthearted play written to give each member of a large cast the opportunity to get off a few jokes, and this production succeeded brilliantly. With so many characters, this show gives only the slightest attention to character development and asked for only the slightest emotional depth from its actors. As such, it’s hard to pick out any actor whose talent shone above the others because everybody got the job done, but I will say that I was always delighted by everything Pancho Villa (Hedman) said or did, and I was really amused with the way Jonathan Sheen’s character remained entirely engaged in his Game Boy even during the fight scenes.
The Night at the Wax Museum isn’t high theater, or even complex comedy. It’s light, airy, and didn’t really require more from the actors than a few punch lines each. The script doesn’t ask a lot from the performers, but they certainly all did their jobs in driving their jokes home. Instead of being character-driven, The Night at the Wax Museum is all about high jinks and quick one-liners, and each character simply serves as the medium for a gag. The thing that made this whole show work was that Brown and the actors gave just the right amount of attention to each quip and then moved on, full-speed to the next.
The set (Michele Brown & Devin Johnson), props (Marie Nutget), lighting (Shimmer Piper & Curtis Bailey), and sound (Sam Birge) were effective yet unobtrusive, giving the audience just enough material to build on with their imaginations. I was especially impressed by the historical and contemporary costumes (designed by Michele Brown). With a cast of 29 characters and a gimmick that hinged on the audience’s being able to recognize each historical figure, this show’s phenomenal costumes made it easy for the audience to keep track of everyone.
I would deem Empress Theatre’s production of The Night at the Wax Museum a success. Craig Sodaro’s script is perfect for the type of amateur theatre Empress excels in, and the actors each accomplished what their characters were written to do. This show was innocently clever and fun and certainly one for the whole family.