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by Michael Portantiere

Bedbugs Bite!!!

  • Bedbugs-caption.jpg

    There's a musical about cats, and there's a musical about frogs, so why not one about bedbugs? True, New Yorkers who went through a big bedbug scare a just a few years ago may not feel there's much to sing about in this subject matter, but composer Paul Leschen and book writer/lyricist Fred Sauter somehow managed to use it as fodder for Bedbugs!!!, a show that was very well received in the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2008. Now, a revised version of Bedbugs!!! is playing at the ATA Chernuchin Theatre, October 19-November 4. I spoke with Robert Bartley, director and co-choreographer of the production, about this intriguing piece.


    BROADWAYSTARS: It's amazing to think back on the bedbug hysteria that gripped New York not so long ago.

    ROBERT BARTLEY: I think it's still alive to some extent. In my neighborhood, Hell's Kitchen, I still sometimes see mattresses in plastic on the street. My partner Danny [Whitman] and I have all wooden furniture in our apartment, and a really comfortable bed. The idea of replacing any of that stuff is very frightening to me. Danny and I used to go to the movies at the AMC on 42nd Street all the time, but we stopped going because the theater had two epidemics of bedbugs.

    STARS: Is your show basically a far-out comedy that was written in response to the infestation?

    RB: Yes, but it has changed in the development. When I came on board, I really didn't want the show to be a two hour Saturday Night Live skit. I like the true art of musical theater, with people breaking into song and not making fun of that. The show has a terrific rock score, so it has a Rocky Horror feel, but in its theater sensibility it has more of a Little Shop feel. You know, as wacky as Audrey is in Little Shop, you buy into her pathos.

    STARS: How did the development of Bedbugs!!! proceed after the show was done at NYMF?

    RB: It was very successful at NYMF, but then they had a hard time nailing down a producer, I guess because of the title and the subject matter. Our producer, Dale Joan Young, really loves the story and the score, so she optioned the show. Part of what's helping us ground the piece is that we're trying to find the heart in it. It's raw, it's funny, and it's about bedbugs, but for me it has deeper meanings about self worth and co-dependency.

    STARS: Talk to me about the cast.

    RB: We wanted to make sure the lead actress was one that we cared about. In came Marissa Rosen, who's fantastic -- sweet, adorable, and a great voice. There's a song in the show called "Silent Spring," and when she sang it at the audition, we all said, "That's it!" We have a cast of nine terrific people, like Trisha Rapier from Sister Act, Christopher Brian Williams from Billy Elliot, Larry Daggett from Ragtime. And we have Chris Hall and Brian Charles Rooney reprising their roles from the NYMF production.

    STARS: You're playing the Chernuchin, where Urintetown had a limited run after it premiered in the Fringe festival but before it hit Broadway. Maybe the theater will be a stepping stone for you, too.

    RB: We're hoping! I love the catwalk on stage at the Chernuchin, but it's also a challenge because that catwalk became iconic when it was used in the Broadway production of Urinetown. I told our set designer, Clifton Chadick, that I wanted New York City to be a character in this piece, but I wanted it to look a little askew. He took soft goods and sewed them together, so the city skyline is made of bedspreads and the rest of the set is made of mattresses.

    STARS: As for costumes, you have the designer from Forbidden Broadway, Philip Heckman. I'll bet that's fun.

    RB: Exactly! Phil is great.

    STARS: Tell me a little about the plot of the show -- but no spoilers, please.

    RB: Sure. There's a girl named Carly who's about seven years old at the start of the show. She has no father, and her mother sells pesticides to foreign nations, so she's away a lot. Mom comes home one night and Carly wants to spend time with her watching TV, but mom is tired so she goes to bed. While Carly is watching TV with her earphones on, mom is attacked by bedbugs; Carly doesn't hear her screaming, and mom ends up falling down a flight of stairs and breaking her neck. This leads Carly to grow up hell-bent on ridding New York City of bedbugs, so she becomes an exterminator.

    STARS: Are the bedbugs actually portrayed on stage?

    RB: Yes, they're portrayed in several stages of their development. They're pretty terrifying.

    STARS: This may sound like an odd question, but have you seen the play Grace on Broadway?

    RB: No, why?

    STARS: Ed Asner plays an exterminator in it.

    RB: Seriously? That's so funny. I want to see that!


    [For more information on Bedbugs!!! or to purchase tickets, visit www.bedbugsmusical.com]

    Published on Friday, October 19, 2012

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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