On Saturday night, the student theater group NOMADS, which produces new original works written and directed by students, presented Ooh Kill ‘Em, a musical parody of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. The show was directed by Isaac Jiffar (CC’18) and produced by Maddy Cohen (BC’19), with book, music, and lyrics written by Nick Hermesman (CC’19). Bwogger Elana Rebitzer went to review the show.
Walking into the James Room in Barnard Hall, I held some apprehension about the show I was about to sit down and see. Tarantino’s style of gore and violence is almost uniquely suited to the silver screen, and adapting that material, even in parody, seemed like an incredibly challenging undertaking. However, as I took my seat, I was excited to see NOMADS’ parody and how they diverged from the original material.
Both the original films and Hermesman’s musical spin on the Tarantino classic center around The Bride (Maggie Vlietstra, BC ’20), a former assassin who was almost murdered on her wedding day by her ex-lover, Bill (Xander Browne, CC’19). Four years after the botched murder attempt, The Bride set out for revenge on the other members of her assassination squad, the Deadly Vipers, with the end goal of killing Bill (hence, the name of the movie). The show, which was divided into two acts, followed the first movie through the first act and the sequel through the second, and from what I gathered, stayed fairly true to the chronology and pure plot of the movie.
In its advertising, “Ooh Kill ‘Em” was billed as a musical parody, but in its execution, it fulfilled the first half of that promise more than the second; while some aspects of the show were clearly departures and parodies of the original content, other scenes were taken straight from the films, only adding musical elements and funny one-liners instead of building from the source material.
However, those specific moments of parody were easily my favorite parts of the show. Numbers like “Wiggle Your Big Toe” and “Strong Female Character,” songs which mocked and poked fun of clearly ridiculous parts of the original films, were the strongest numbers in the show, both in terms of lyrics and the actual staging of the numbers. At other points, the show didn’t quite live up to the promise of those shining moments of parody, failing to find a balance between the original content and the form of the show.
Throughout the night, I was repeatedly impressed and pleased by the quality of the performers. Vlietstra visibly became more confident in her portrayal of The Bride as the show progressed, managing to make each scene sharper and funnier than the last. Though Xander Browne (playing Bill) had a relatively small role in the first act, his presence was utterly commanding and invigorating on-stage, especially during his confrontation with The Bride. The rest of the Deadly Vipers (Chantel Woo, BC ’20, Sarah Ried, CC’17, Sal Volpe, CC’19, and Josie Kirsch, BC ’17) were all frightening and funny in equal parts, finding a collective happy medium. The ensemble in general gave a particularly solid performance, adding a cohesion and stability to the show even with the variety of minor characters. My attention was singularly caught by Billy Chiu (CC ’20), who played a ridiculous number of incredibly different roles and managed to make each of the characters entirely unique from each other. I felt that the entire cast did a great job with the not-so-amazing material that they were given, although occasionally I did find that some characters seemed incredibly one dimensional (again, a fault of the writing and direction more so than of the actors). In addition, the band, led by Sandy Gooen (BC ’19) did an admirable job.
The location, held in the James Room in Barnard Hall, was also definitely not ideal. Audience members in the back could not see any action that happened on the floor, so many people eventually just stood on the side in order to get a better view. Additionally, the acoustics of the room were mediocre, and it was occasionally hard to hear the actors over the band. The show was fairly straightforward with regard to its technical production, with very little props (actors would stand on stage to represent doors), but for a show taking on something as iconic as “Kill Bill,” it felt sparse.
The writing of the show was particularly hit-or-miss for me, and many of the lyrics felt contrived. The show merged entirely original music with parodies of songs like Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), and it broke the fourth wall several times throughout the night, sometimes more tastefully than others. At times, especially near the beginning of the show, it did feel like there was an excessive amount of swearing (especially of misogynistic slurs) that took me out of the performance for the moment. The show did draw some attention to the more problematic aspects of the original movie, drawing applause from the audience when The Bride called Buck out for “liking to fuck … without consent.”
That scene, however, was indicative with my primary issue with the production: although it did acknowledge the problematic aspects of the original production, I didn’t feel like it did much to actually change them. A kind of humorous warning for gore in the beginning of the production did not feel like enough of a warning for what was an attempted rape scene on stage. Although I acknowledge that the very idea of trigger warnings is controversial, the scene made light of the idea of rape in a way that made me incredibly uncomfortable. It did not ruin the show for me, but did cast a negative light over it, and I wish NOMADS, the producer and/or director, or the show itself had handled the topic with more awareness and tact.
Overall, despite its flaws, I enjoyed myself watching “Ooh Kill ‘Em.” For a majority of the show, the musical felt more like a workshop or a staged reading than a full-fledged production, and there were definitely moments where I was uncomfortable or confused as to the direction of the show. Nevertheless, the quality and consistency of the actors and the occasional moments of inspiration made the evening enjoyable, if not entirely satisfying.
Image via everything you need to know about Kill Bill