By Charles Lam
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
Remember those late-night sessions in high school or college (or maybe last night) when you'd sit around with a bunch of friends and conjure the most awesome ideas? Some were so amazing you even wrote them down, only to wake up the next day to realize you'd spilled bong water over a magnum opus that, in the bright light of 2 p.m., was actually quite ridiculous.
That didn't stop the creators of Triassic Parq: The Musical from executing a most absurd idea: telling the story of a certain blockbuster film from the perspective of the dinosaurs. And making it a musical. And peppering it with all sorts of gender-defying characters, religious overtones, identity and spiritual crises, scientific musings, and dick jokes.
And while the result doesn't prove that, given enough time, 100 chimpanzees could bang out Hamlet, it certainly proves that sometimes even the most harebrained ideas yield comic gold. This is a genuine five-S show: smart, sassy, sexy, silly and sarcastic. It is also eminently entertaining, which is, usually, accomplishment enough. But somehow, writers Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo accomplish something even greater: imbuing non-humans with genuine emotion and depth. That's something that's de rigueur in animated films, but to see it happen onstage is a small miracle of theater magic.
This Chance Theater production is the first time the show has been seen outside of New York (it recently ended an off-Broadway run after winning the 2010 Best Musical award at FringeNYC). While the cast is new, it's directed by Pailet, who also wrote the music, so OC audiences are getting the finished vision of his and his partners.
And what a vision it is. We begin with Morgan Freeman (an electrifying Camryn Zelinger) introducing us to this world, set on a small island off the coast of Costa Rica. It's not necessary to be familiar with the story that this show parodies, but attentive filmgoers might remember one key plot point that ignites this carnival ride: while all the dinosaurs were female and created in a lab, their DNA was incomplete, so it had to be spliced with a strand of frog DNA. This is important because some species of female frog can grow penises, which is exactly what happens in this show, when one of the T-Rexes (Kellie Spill ) is shocked to discover something protruding from between her legs. This T-Rex is now (to crib a line from a New York Times review) a He-Rex.
Her fellow dinosaurs, led by a shaman-like Velociraptor of Faith (Jackson Tobiska), are just as shocked, with their leader banishing T-Rex 2  from the tribe. Meanwhile, as one of our dinos is dealing with a crisis of identity, the younger Velociraptor of Innocence (Keaton Williams) is suffering a crisis of faith. She yearns to get beyond the electrified fence and experience life off the reservation, but is continually stymied by Faith dino, who tells her that even thinking of leaving is sacrilege to the Lab, the mysterious entity that provides food to the tribe and is therefore its God.
Nothing makes rational sense in this show: Characters come back to life after dying; the musical director and pianist, Taylor Stephenson, is continually harassed by one cast member; and one dinosaur questions how it learned to read. So a thoughtful analysis of the plot isn't necessary. What is necessary is to accept the ridiculousness of this world and enjoy the ride. That's helped considerably by an eclectic score that includes everything from power ballads to a hip-hop-infused piece that is, surprisingly, not embarrassing. The highly talented ensemble belts out the tunes, and coupled with Kelly Todd's sinewy choreography, the musical numbers do what musical numbers should do: advance the story.
And even though that story is preposterous, the themes it explores are anything but. The dual crises of faith and identity, even though endured by actors portraying dinosaurs, feel genuine, as does the growing self-awareness of these prehistoric figures spewed into a world that has long since passed them by.
The Chance has been nailing musicals for some time now, from the outrageous Jerry Springer: The Opera to last year's West Side Story. And because those shows are staged in an intimate space, there's no need to rely on visual bombast and flashy sets to keep the audience interested. Instead, the focus is on relationships. The fact that a musical about dinosaur relationships works so well is a testament to both the show's creators and this energetic cast. Keep an eye on both this show (it's bound to become a cult musical classic along the same lines as the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Urinetown: The Musical) as well as director and co-creator Pailet, as the Chance's resident playwright of 2013 is also working on a couple of development projects with DreamWorks Animation.
Who knows, maybe he can focus his considerable talents a little closer to home on another class of dinosaurs out of step with the surrounding world: Orange County Republicans.
 The identity of the actress who portrays the penis-sprouting T-Rex was listed incorrectly. Corrected Feb. 13, 2013.
 The T-Rex who sprouts the penis was misidentified.
Corrected Feb. 13, 2013.