Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Play Review

By: Joseph Perry (@JosephWPerryJWP)

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Portland, Oregon theater group StageWorks Ink is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, kicking things off last month at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie, Oregon, with an expanded, cabaret-style revival of its first-ever production, writer/director Steve Coker’s Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live from Outer Space.

This hilarious musical comedy plays with elements of 1950s teen-horror movies and 1980s science-fiction/horror films also aimed at teenage audiences, focusing more on loving nods and earnest homage rather than settling for mere camp or pastiche.

The story’s heroine is junior varsity cheerleader Staci Harbaugh (Kelly Stewart), who has just moved to a smaller town from Seattle with her father, Deputy Daniel Harbaugh (Steve Coker). The cliquish varsity cheerleaders, led by Courtney (Stephanie Willing), aren’t keen on her, especially when she draws the attention of school football star Troy Linton (Sean Lamb) and local rebel Dean Jameson (Dave Cole). One night, Staci, most of her fellow cheerleaders, and some friends investigate a strange light in the night sky, and soon we have our titular characters running amok, slicing and dicing their way through the bucolic town. It’s up to Staci to try and thwart this deadly attack.

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Coker’s script is a fine one, equally strong in delivering touching scenes of family relationships and comedic sequences involving snotty cheerleaders (in both human and monster form), benevolent alien visitors, and rebels who eventually find a cause. Although there are plenty of laughs built into the script, plenty of small touches that play off on having a low special effects budget add another dimension of humor to Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live from Outer Space. Sound effects that make a kick scooter become a motorcycle, along with using Silly String for a weapon and having a puppet cat as a character, were just a few of the crowd-pleasing flourishes on tap. 

The cast members nailed all of their roles, whether in lead or supporting ones. Though working with Coker’s script, there were a few moments that seemed improvised or at least building on what was in the script, including some work in the background while main characters were doing their thing. For example, two characters had a silent conversation with each other that took place while other characters spoke, which the audience found so funny that the actors had to try hard not to break character and laugh themselves. This showed that the actors were truly enjoying themselves, which was contagious and added to the fun that the audience was having.

This production of Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live from Outer Space featured a bevy of popular songs from the 1980s, with actors singing to a live band. For example, Staci and her junior varsity cheerleader pal Lisa (Emily Alexander) sang Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a playful moment, Deputy Daniel sang The Cars’ “Drive” as he wondered about his daughter growing up into a young woman, and, of course, Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” made an appearance, during a showdown between Dean and cheerleader werewolf Penny (played by both Jessica Newman and Amanda Healy). All of the numbers were terrific, whether played for laughs or to add sentimental moments to the goings-on.

Coker’s Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live from Outer Space is crafted to be a crowd-pleaser, and it certainly met its goal when I went to see it on closing night of its March run. StageWorks Ink has another revival run planned for the fall, this time bringing back Flash Ah-Ahhh!, Steve Coker’s re-imagining of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, chock full of Queen songs. After seeing what the StageWorks Ink cast and crew pulled off with Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live from Outer Space, I’ll definitely be back for that one and whatever else Coker and company have to offer. 

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