Presented by Chasing Shadows Productions for the Hamilton Fringe Festival 2021, Martians and Martinis is a sci-fi musical comedy set in 1960s Niagara Falls. Immersing you in a world of seedy night clubs, aliens and Russian spies, this quirky puppet-show homage to old school B-movies is a clever, endearing treat.
After firing the head lounge singer, a sneaky club manager replaces him with a recently landed alien, Gleepnyorbp. As this is “too ethnic,” he’s given the stage name Buddy Nova. Into the mix is thrown: a mother/daughter nightclub act—Starla Brite and Honey Moon, some American/Canadian tensions in the odd couple pairing of an FBI agent and RCMP officer, and some Venusian space cops!
The puppets are not articulated, so there is a clunky, low-tech stop-motion aesthetic to the visuals. This is, of course, their charm. It is the evocative details in Susan Robinson’s designs that really sell it. The environments—static background images the puppets are composited into—are deliberately silly and create a very palpable sense of place.
The musical numbers are endearingly self-aware. The only choreography possible is puppets bobbing up-and-down or side-to-side. Particularly hilarious are the moments when characters mug for the camera. The songs, by writer/director Will Gillespie, though not particularly memorable, have a giddy, naive charm. The finale even dips into Rocky Horror territory with a tragic space-rivalry moment set against tinsel curtains.
There are so many great bits: all the goofy names, a town called Antler Hoof in Saskatchewan, cheesy plays on the word “alien,” cheeky references to Cold War tensions. One of my favourite scenes involves the space cops interrogating Honey and Starla using “How to Talk to Women: A Playboy’s Guide to Chatting up the Chicks” as an instruction manual. Classic.
Performed by Gillespie (writer/director), Robinson (puppets), Rachel Offer, Matthew Lazaris-Brunner, Pamela Blackwood-Marques, Larry Smith and Chris Cracknel, Martians and Martinis is a delightful romp bursting with whimsical camp.