ARCHIVE: Me and My Shadowcast

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As ye sew, so shall ye rip: A scene from REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, the sci-fi musical cult phenom that makes its local screen debut this Saturday in Asbury Park — complete with live-actor accompaniment. And they said the movie musical was dead!

(First published on Red Bank oRBit March 3, 2010)

If you’re the sort of filmgoer who scrambles to catch up with all of the Oscar nominated pictures before Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony — a pretty daunting prospect now that there’s ten of them — may we recommend turning a Blind Side to the latest crop of overly Precious and Serious Basterds, and letting those last few discretionary dollars ride on a film that’s likely to have way more long-lasting cultural impact than Dances with Smurfs.

Positioned as a cross between Blade Runner and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the cult phenomenon that is REPO! The Genetic Opera combines the cyber/slobberpunk esthetic of the former with the gorezone glam and fan-driven excitement of the latter. Originating as an underground stage show by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich (who, a la Richard “Riff Raff” O’Brien, plays a crucial supporting role as a graverobber), the 2008 film by Saw franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman plays out in a dystopian future society, where body-mod surgeries and organ transplants have become so mainstream that you can buy them on layaway like that three-piece sectional from Discount Bob’s. Only when they come to repossess your purchase in this case, they’ll be ripping more than just your sticky shirtless back from the vinyl slipcover.

Now if that sounds a whole lot like the forthcoming Jude Law movie Repo Men, bear in mind that the makers of this Genetic Opera did it first — and they did it to the tune of an all-singing soundtrack performed by an intriguing cast of TV heartthrobs, popculture princesses and actual operatic voices. There’s Paul Sorvinoas Rotti Largo, head of the all-powerful replacement parts factory GeneCo. Paris Hilton is Amber, his surgery-addict daughter, while Ogre of the band Skinny Puppyis his masked son. Anthony Head of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the ruthlessly efficient repo man Nathan; Alexa Vega (of Spy Kids!) is Nathan’s innocent daughter, and Sarah Brightman — that’s right, the ex-Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber — is an operatic protege.

A once-in-a-lifetime cast like that surely deserved a better fate than to be dumped by Lionsgate into a scattershot limited-release run that saw the movie screen in Mobile and Ottawa instead of New York and LA. But, beginning with a series of Road Tours undertaken by the writers — and picked up by a growing nationwide network of rabid fans — REPO! has returned with a vengeance to take possession of our hearts and minds, in a way that puts a supercharged social spin on the word-of-lips momentum generated by Rocky Horror in its midnight makeover.

Should any of this tantalize the taste buds, you’ve got a chance to be part of the event when REPO! comes to our fair Shore for the first time, in a Saturday night screening at The Showroom (Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino’s nimble nickelodeon in downtown Asbury) that promises a little something more than popcorn breath and passive viewing.

Inspired by the costumed Rockyphiles who’ve accompanied showings of the movie with live-actor recreations of the onscreen action, some 30 all-volunteer “REPO Armies” have sprung up across the map — including two in NYC, and a Philly-based group called the Night Surgeons — to enact these “shadowcast” performances at screening events and serve as a much appreciated grass roots marketing force. As the first such team in New Jersey, The Traitors to GeneCo has the honor of presenting Saturday’s event in Asbury Park — and according to Traitors directorTaylor Franklin, “we sent out about 50 e-mails to different theaters, and The Showroom was one of the few to respond.”

The Toms River resident got her first taste of REPO! in the fall of 2008, joining the already-established Traitors in April of last year and quickly rising to the coveted directorship of a shadowcast that regularly numbers between 10 and 15 members. Playing the multiple-costume-change role of Amber to the Hilt(on), Franklin states that she “has pretty big shoes to fill” (a reference to the hotel heiress’s famous Size 11s), and has by her own admission sunk several thousand dollars into her detail-intensive costume recreations.

Maintaining that “all of the casts in this area are pretty close,” Franklin reports that March 19 will be a day marked by mass performances featuring shadowcasts from coast to coast, including a collaboration between her Traitors and the aforementioned Night Surgeons. Take it here for updates on the group’s traitorous activities, and call (732)502-0472 to reserve tix ($10) for Saturday’s 9pm screening.

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