A musical based on an iconic supernatural comedy from 1984 is the kind of show we’ve come to expect during the Cincinnati Fringe. But there’s nothing expectable about Don’t Cross the Streams, which begins with that notion and then processes and reprocesses the idea to a point of ridiculous hilarity. We begin predictably enough with three guys singing about busting ghosts (“Three Brilliant Scientists/Imagine If You Will”), rehearsing at a New Jersey theater in a reasonably straightforward translation of the film to the stage. But before that number winds up, a communiqué from a West Coast law firm warns them they don’t have the rights to use the material. Of course, it never occurs to anyone to seek permission. After a moment of downhearted defeat, they rally around the notion of transforming every recognizable element of the movie into something else: they become “spirit fighters” and what you might recall of the hit movie recedes into the background — kind of.
A familiarity with Ghostbusters will enhance your appreciation of this manically conceived work with book, lyrics and music by Mike Hall and Joshua Steele. At Know Theatre on opening night, a full-house audience clearly knew the film and shrieked with laughter as the tale spun wilder with each passing moment. Even if you only vaguely recall the antics of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in the movie, I suspect you’ll find this production entertaining, thanks to a solid cast of Cincinnati stage talent performing a handful of zany tunes (Steve Milloy music directed and plays Leroy, the onstage keyboardist who accompanies the production) that extend and twist the tale.
Rodger Pille, Phillip Webster and Fringe veteran Randy Lee Bailey play the “spirit fighters” until Barry is injured and replaced by Tom Highley as Hugo West, a pompous soap opera actor. Hugo has no idea what the show is about and imposes the most ridiculous line readings and choreography on his performance. Highley gives this character a comic spin that is truly memorable — arrogantly squinting at his less experienced fellow actors, over-dramatizing every line and dancing to his own drummer. His performance is a comic tour de force. Another high point is one of several diversionary tunes added to the constantly evolving work: a hard-driving, Gospel-inspired song, “The Ghost Bus To My Lord,” with Cameron Jamarr Davis taking the rousing lead.
The show culminates with “Wheat In My Pocket,” a song that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie, a Folk-flavored anthem about life on a farm that was Leroy’s only hit song. It’s delivered with earnest silliness by the cast, led by Chris Stewart (in the geeky role played by Rick Moranis in the film) dressed as a Hostess Twinkie (don’t ask for logic, please). Although the show feels a tad long (its 80 minutes would benefit from some tightening), I expect Cincinnati Fringe audiences will be shaking their heads, slapping their knees and laughing themselves silly while enjoying Don’t Cross the Streams.