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The '20s Go to Mexico in 'Beware the Chupacabra!'

What if the legendary Chupacabra were real, and what if a young inventor let her speak?

The down-on-his-luck young man who falls for the rich young lady despite her father's disapproval is a story we've certainly heard before. So is the girl's father setting him on a seemingly impossible quest to prove he is worthy of her, the man secretly hoping that he will fail. But when, instead of slaying the legendary beast, he befriends it and uses his new invention to allow it to speak to humans, we begin to sense that we are on a different path altogether.

Mind the Art Entertainment's Beware the Chupacabra! by R. Patrick Alberty and Christian De Gré is the tale of orphan/tailor/inventor Teddy Baskins (Vinnie Urdea), whose life is forever changed in the early hours of New Years' Day, 1920 when a group of high society women trick him and steal his prized custom gown. But irresponsible heiress Victoria Warner (Caitlin Wees) takes a liking to the boy, and when he loses his job takes him in as her personal tailor and suitor over the objections of her outraged father Arris (Everett O'Neil). Desperate to get Teddy out of the way while he pursues a failing presidential campaign against former friend Warren Harding, Arris insists that to prove worthy of his daughter, the young man must travel to Mexico and kill the Chupacabra.

This musical gets off to a very slow start, spending far too long establishing through song and dance little more than it is the Twenties, the rich are evil and our main character is overwhelmingly naive. The piece doesn't truly find its footing until they make it to Mexico, where we meet by far the most engaging characters in the production, innkeeper Tipo (Robert Moreira) and La Chupacabra herself (Charly Dannis). Tipo is delightfully down-to-earth in the midst of Teddy's insane quest, making it all the more entertaining when he gets caught up in it, while the Chupacabra's charming fixation with "flesh food" slowly morphs into a complex and mournful consideration of being the last of one's species.

The heart of the story is the growing relationship between Teddy and the Chupacabra, the conflict between the honest love they feel for each other and more selfish motives of wealth, fame and the desire to no longer feel quite so alone. In a musical in which most of the numbers seem to exist for the sake of comic effect, period dancing and commentary on the excesses of the uber-rich, the Chupacabra's single ballad, performed alone onstage while sitting in a single spot, stands by itself as a moment of beauty.

Beware the Chupacabra! is at its strongest when it fully embraces its absurdity, whether that's the "Caller" universal translator actually working or the gruff hitman regressing into a childlike state after encountering the creature for the first time. The time spent establishing a semi-realistic, semi-satirical 1920s milieu at the beginning of the show only keeps us from getting to the good part, while the intermingling of historical figures (President Harding and the Warner family) with fictional and mythical characters proves somewhat awkward. Likewise, the women in heels crossdressing to play old men as part of Warner's elite social club are more distracting than they are humorous.

You can see in the intricate Chupacabra costume and some of the Mexican outfits hints of what allowed Mind the Art and designer Ashley Soliman to win the Fringe Overall Excellence Award for costumes last year, though the depiction of the Mexican villagers themselves borders on offensive. The dance numbers are also always entertaining, though it is often difficult to hear some of the lyrics to the songs over the band.

Even if it does become repetitive, the musical's only somewhat satirical depiction of the wealthiest Manhattanites particularly resonates with audiences today. But the deeper themes of loneliness and of finding a kindred spirit in the unlikeliest of places are relevant to any time, and apparently to any species. And that is where Beware the Chupacabra! shines.

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