Book and Lyrics by Annie Pulsipher; Music and Lyrics by Alex Petti; Directed by Stephen M. Eckert
Presented by Black Watch Theatre LLC
Off Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 7.16.23
The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street
by Emily Cordes on 6.25.23
L-R: Patrick Voss Davis, Heather Sawyer, Will Einbinder, and Patrick Swailes Caldwell in
The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends. Photo by Sean Salamon.
BOTTOM LINE: A clever, campy, and surprisingly feminist spoof of the paranormal romance genre.
Whether it’s the star-crossed relationships, dark sensuality, or concept of eternal devotion, paranormal romance holds tremendous sway over the American popular imagination. And whether we love, or love to hate, the subject, tales of supernatural partnerships have inspired countless works of film, television, literature—and parody. The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends, a new musical by Annie Pulsipher and Alex Petti, offers one such spoof of the paranormal romance genre, gleefully celebrating its cliches while turning a savvy lens on its more worrisome aspects.
The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends follows teenage friends Madison (Zoe Dean), Grace (Alia Cuadros-Contreras) and Stella (Heather Sawyer), who, on the eve of their freshman year of high school, cast a spell to attract their ideal boyfriends. A quick jump forward to senior year, and the girls’ impending prom night, reveals the questionable outcomes of these efforts, as supernatural romance and personal conflict threaten to tear the trio apart.
Insecure and sexually frustrated, Stella has found respite in her secret affair with Lucian (Will Einbinder), a smoldering, centuries-old vampire. Faced with Lucian’s pressure to “turn” her on prom night or lose him altogether, Stella must decide whether their love is worth the price of her humanity. Grace, nursing Stanford aspirations, budding magical gifts, and a mild crush on Stella, is equally haunted by Silence (Hagan Oliveras), the ghost of a Puritan teenager. Captivated by his poetic soul—and ability to possess human bodies—Grace lets Silence coax her into attending prom together, hoping his influence will help her transcend her nerdy shell. Dogged in her quest for the perfect prom night, Madison’s disenchantment with her dim jock boyfriend Zach (Patrick Voss Davis) and demand for public expression of their love leads to fatal disaster. When her ensuing DIY-necromancy turns Zach into a ravenous zombie, Madison finds her devotion tested as she struggles to keep his hunger, and violence, contained. As prom night brings these secrets to a catastrophic head, the girls must come together to face the monstrosities within and around them.
In both concept and execution, Pulsipher, Petti, and director Stephen M. Eckert craft a delicious satire. Subtle and obvious pop culture references abound: the characters attend George A. Romero Memorial High School; Stella’s room is decked in Twilight memorabilia; an ill-fated guinea pig’s name nods to the classic vampire show Dark Shadows. Group musical numbers such as the “Time-Warp”-esque “Dissection Dance,” ‘80s-sports-montage “Work It Out,” and doo-wop-inspired “ZomBaby” cite well-known teen-movie, horror, and musical tropes, while ensemble members Stephanie Hawkins and Patrick Swailes Caldwell people the show with a familiar array of perky class presidents, outlandish teachers, and dysfunctional parents. An overhead projector, used to broadcast each scene’s young-adult-fiction inspired title, similarly hearkens to low-tech classroom presentations, but the set’s glitter-streamer backdrop tends to swallow this visual element.
Beyond its clever trappings, the musical’s rich characterization and social commentary gives Dead Boyfriends surprising depth and insight. Taking aim at the more questionable aspects of paranormal romance, the show draws parallels between the genre’s common relational dynamics and physical or emotional abuse, consent and sexual coercion, and internalized or systemic misogyny. Fittingly, its female leads frequently find themselves torn between personal conviction and the desire for love and acceptance, conflicted by cultural narratives around codependency and submission, or so enamored with their male counterparts’ charm that they justify, or even romanticize, toxic behavior. Ultimately, though, the show’s message is one of empowerment, and we delight in seeing its protagonists morph from swooning teens to slaying avengers. Whether we find ourselves haunted by insecurity, patriarchal oppression, or the ghosts of relationships past, The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends calls on us to exorcise our demons—with a little help from our friends.
(The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends plays at The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street, through July 16, 2013. Running time is 1 hour 50 minutes with one intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $42-$62 and are available at deadboyfriendsmusical.com.)
The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends is written by Annie Pulsipher (Book & Lyrics) and Alex Petti (Music & Lyrics). Directed by Stephen M. Eckert. Presented by Black Watch Theatre LLC. Scenic Design by Lex Gernon-Wyatt. Costume Design by Olivia Hern. Lighting Design by Andrew DG Hunt. Sound Design by Alex Petti. Stage Manager is Emily Bubeck.
The cast is Heather Sawyer, Alia Cuadros-Contreras, Zoe Dean, Will Einbinder, Hagan Oliveras, Patrick Voss Davis, Stephanie Hawkins, Patrick Swailes Caldwell, Sophia Carlin, and Jonah McKinley.