A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant-Live!
Produced by Unattended Baggage Film and Theatre Company
Review by Jen Bush
Based on a concept by Alex Timbers
Book/Music/Lyrics by Kyle Jarrow
Director/Executive Producer/Designer/Adapted for Television by Sean Pollock
Associate Director/Choreographer-Sarah Rose
Cast: Gloria Manning, Maxim Swinton, Sadler Shelby, Nick Vivar, Jadaya Bivins, Byron Ramirez, Jaden Greenberg, Liliana Ruiz, Eric A. Walker Jr., Neo Vela
Swings: Molly K. Lyons and Serena Parrish
Unattended Baggage is an experimental artists collective consisting of writers, directors, producers, visual artists, theater makers, filmmakers, actors, sound designers and everything in between. They scoff at categorization. They’re about film, theatre, comedy, TV and web series projects, radio and hybrid media. Their works are a buffet with something for everyone. In their own words:
“Our sensibilities are traditionally modern, queer, subversive, and related to live performance, sometimes site-specific/environmental or site-responsive. We are interested in catering to queer folx, punks, the working class, weirdos, nerds, and geeks. We’re interested in fun and come (but we don’t necessarily shy away from making serious subject material, either). In the past, our work has run the gamut from docu-theatre, absurdism, musical works, autobiographical stories, dark comedy, and Geek Theatre (specifically in the areas of horror, superheroes, and science fiction). Our work is inherently experimental and often blends tones, genres, and mediums. We welcome both re-staging and remakes of existing work (with a preference towards more obscure existing work), and new work alike.” Let’s add Scientology to the mix!
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant-Live is a satirical musical that tells the story of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. The story is told by children in a school holiday recital way. It’s cheesy as all get out and that’s exactly how it’s intended to be.
This musical is the brainchild of Kyle Jarrow who wrote the book, music and lyrics based on a concept by Alex Timbers. The show premiered in 2003 in New York City enjoying sold out runs Off-Off and Off Broadway. It won an Obie award and had successful runs in other states. The show was well-received everywhere to high acclaim. It got some top-level Scientologist’s e-meters in a tizzy resulting intimidation tactics. There was no “disconnection” for this show. Here they are 20 years later going strong and entertaining and enlightening new audiences.
Scientology has never been without controversy. Is it a religion, cult or business? Maybe it’s all three or none of the above. It’s many followers include some of the top A-list talent in Hollywood and a wide berth of influence. Former Scientologist Leah Remini spent 3 years over 37 episodes exposing Scientology and Scientologists in her show, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. It’s been in the media for everything from tax evasion to unorthodox and harmful practices. This musical touches on all of that right out of the mouths of babes.
In the very first scenes we see audience members taking their seats for the performance as children hand out pamphlets and attempt to recruit them into Scientology. The show begins with the children singing an inspirational song which morphs into an upbeat tune. They begin the life story of L. Ron Hubbard right from birth. I’m still trying to figure out if there was a cryptic message behind baby Hubbard being represented by an egg carton cradled in a blanket. It doesn’t really matter because it was funny. They go through his life as a science fiction writer, a naval officer and finally founder of the church of Scientology. A recurring theme in the production was Hubbard searching for the key to happiness, life and existence. We get all the scientology jargon explained in song plus puppets. The well written and witty songs cover many genres such as pop, kid songs, ballads, church type music and styles you would expect to hear in a concert given by children. There was one particularly poignant song entitled “Rain”.
There was no wink, wink, nudge nudge among the cast. The kids took the funny material and played it straight which made it funnier. A highlight of the show was when L. Ron Hubbard was in court for tax evasion. The child actors portrayed the most famous Scientologists like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Moss providing testimonials and singing the praises of Scientology. Genius and hilarious at the same time.
The children in this production were incredibly talented and professional. They all have bright careers ahead of them. Their singing voices were powerful and angelic. L. Ron Hubbard was portrayed by an African American female child, and I didn’t blink an eye. Gloria Manning was that good and carried the show on her young talented shoulders. All the children were exceptional.
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant: Live! Is an impressively comprehensive history lesson about L. Ron Hubbard and every aspect of Scientology presented by innocent peppy children. Serious details are told with merriment and conviction. It’s funny as well as revealing and disturbing. I won’t be joining the church of Scientology, but I will see future productions by Unattended Baggage who did a great job with A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant: Live!