By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — You’ll believe dinosaurs are capable of romance, and a wide range of other complex behaviors (including sibling rivalry and passionate tangos), if you are wise enough to go see “Extinction: A Love Story,” a musical about dinosaurs making its world premiere this week in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University’s Music Center Recital Hall.
There are gripping emotional encounters, touching love duets, bitter rivalries, a deeply moving death scene, humorous banter and elegant dances.
Bob Diven wrote the book, lyrics and music for the tale of six paleontologists who morph into surprisingly similar dinosaur counterparts.
Their adventures take us back 65 million years to the New Mexico desert, when big changes are in store.
A talented team collaborated to create a thoroughly enjoyable production.
Returning New York-based professional entertainers with NMSU connections, opera singer Jessica Medoff Bunchman and dancer, singer and choreographer Isaac Quiroga, star in an intriguing love triangle with Ian Sidden, an NMSU graduate student in voice, who more than holds his own with the pros. Sidden’s rich voice and confident bluster make his cocky T-Rex a convincing dino babe magnet.
He lures his love with the offer of a mega hunk of decaying meat.
“Ooh, a haunch! You remembered,” purrs the object of his affection, as the two join in the show’s show-stopping song-and-dance number, the passionate “Carnivores in Love” tango.
But Medoff Bunchman’s Albertosaurus finds herself tempted to leave her top-of-the-food-chain lover when she finds a soulmate in a herbivore named Bob (Quiroga), a lovesick hadrosaur.
Ashley Foster and Brandon Brown provide comic relief as the squabbling, hyperactive brother and sister of the genus ornithomimus. Richard Rundell, portraying the last remaining pentaceratops, is the sage and elder of the group. His moving farewell aria is reminiscent of Grizabella’s “Memories” in “Cats.”
Deserving of co-starring accolades for the production’s success are Mark Medoff’s sensitive direction, Debra Knapp’s eloquent choreography and Deb Brunson’s sets and wonderful costumes.
Everything works together, as the actors skillfully move within their roles and imaginative outfits to convey complex emotions and navigate challenging musical production numbers. These are no one-trick prehistoric beasts; these dinos have range.
Diven’s creative script and music offer lots of opportunities for the cast to strut their diverse skills. Numbers range from musical comedy ensemble pieces and a lively spiritual to duets and trios with complex and lovely harmonies and solos that focus on messages both subtle and dramatic.
And characters, both in homo sapiens and dino forms, grapple with some disturbingly relevant concepts as they struggle to “see who makes the cut” to “escape the existential rut” and the last of a dying breed mourns “young ones left behind, in a world too vast to be kind.”
As Diven noted, “Like the Titanic, we all know how this story ends,” but he manages to leave the audience with some encouraging thoughts: the upside of extinction can be some intriguing evolution. And both humans and dinos reach the same carpe diem conclusion: “If it all ends tomorrow, life is beautiful today.”
Substantial contributions come from musical direction by Shanelle Jernigan, an NMSU alum who is currently visiting from Ohio, and lighting designer Gerald Kottman. His shadow effects reinforce the dinosaur illusions skillfully conveyed by the cast and crew.
“Extinction” is a great all-ages show. A class of Vista Middle School students gave the production rave reviews and a standing ovation at a dress rehearsal. Kids will love the costumes and antics and adults should find much to appreciate, too, including Medoff Bunchman’s expressive delivery and truly beautiful voice, Quiroga’s graceful moves and Diven’s sly wit.
The musical, developed in NMSU collaborate summer theater workshops, combines resources and talents from the Las Cruces community and from Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts, the Doña Ana Lyric Opera and the NMSU Department of Music.
Tickets, at $15 or $5 for NMSU students, will be available at the Pan American Center box office at (575) 646-1420, through the F.Y.E. store in the Mesilla Valley Mall, from Ticketmaster at (575) 532-2060 or www.ticketmaster.com or at the door at NMSU Music Center Recital Hall on performance nights at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org