When Bubonic Plague hit England in the mid 14th century, half the population perished. It was not a pleasant time - which is why it’s hard to imagine another topic less suited to a musical comedy.
But Plague! the Musical makes its American debut this weekend in West Rutland, and the Marble Valley Players’ director, who’s overseeing a cast of about thirty adults and teens, says it’s a hoot.
Martin Bones was born in England and says he’s always been fascinated by the history of the Plague. He says he was on YouTube trying to find a BBC special about it a few years ago when he came across something else.
“So I put in Bubonic Plague and about 10 hits down was this scene from a song called “Its Bubonic,” and I thought that looks like fun. So I started listening to it. I fell in love with the song,” says Bones, “and began looking into the show and eventually found out it wasn’t published anywhere, so I literally emailed the writers and said, ‘Hey have you considered letting anyone else do it and can I do it?’”
Plague! The Musical is an offbeat comedy written by Dave Massingham and Matt Townend. It’s kind of a cross between Little Shop of Horrors, Faust and Beetlejuice, with a heavy dose of Monty Python for laughs.
Plague’s website boasts that it’s the first musical to base an entire love song around a recorder-playing twelve-year-old with a kidney disorder.
Martin Bones laughs at that, “It’s the British sense of humor. It’s hilarious because it’s so awful,” he says. “One of my favorite things about it is that it had no socially redeeming value. It really is just fun. It pokes fun at the plague, it pokes fun at the surroundings of the plague it pokes fun at other musicals.” Bones says “the whole thing is a really hilarious satirical piece of work.”
The story begins in London just before the plague. It centers on a young man named Clive who takes a job with a down-on-his luck undertaker.
When Clive falls for Isabella, the beautiful daughter of an alchemist and the undertaker’s arch enemy. . . . Clive becomes caught between those who would profit from death and those trying to end it forever.
Throw in some rats, druids and 11 original songs and, well, you get the idea.
“Basically everyone is singing and dying,” laughs Rutland’s Taylor Ampatiellos, who plays Clive.
He rattle off lyrics like, “Get your coffins while they’re hot and you are still warm.”
Katherine Bullock, of Shrewsbury, who plays Isabella, says you can’t help but like the lyrics of It’s Bubonic. She rattles off a couple versus, “It’s not pleasing, leaves you sneezing in the most alarming way. . . . and it’s outrageous, quite contagious and we hope that it will go away.”
Taylor Ampatiellos says, “People will go home singing the music and then having it in their heads and then complaining the next day about the songs not leaving their heads ‘cuz it is so catchy. The songs are brilliant,” he adds, “the rhymes and the way that they incorporate the story into the songs is just perfect.”
Performed for the first time at the popular Fringe performing Arts Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008, Plague! the Musical won that year’s Pick of the Fringe Award. Since then it’s been performed in London and Germany, but not yet in the United States.
Martin Bones lives in Bridgewater, but says thanks to Facebook and emails, he’s become good friends with Dave Massingham and Matt Townend, the show’s writers. “They definitely are happy somebody else is doing it,” says Bones. “As Matt put it, it’s really an homage to all the things they loved growing up and it’s best done in a small community group and it’s best done with lots of love, as opposed to lots of flair.”
Bones says they’ll try and provide both when the show opens this weekend. The Marble Valley Players will present Plague! the Musical Fri. Oct. 18 and Sat. Oct. 19, and next Fri. Oct.25 and Sat. Oct. 26 at the West Rutland Town Hall Theater.