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'Shockheaded Peter' at Company One doesn't quite shock you

Paul Fox

“Shockheaded Peter” is a dark, twisted collection of children’s bedtime stories that teaches little Victorian tykes about the consequences of bad behavior. Think “Sweeney Todd”-style consequences like death and dismemberment. It’s a musical.

The sinister story begins with the birth of a freaky looking baby with shocking orange hair and repulsively long fingernails. His parents stash the unappealing infant under the floorboards of their living room and, like nails on a chalkboard, the scratching sound begins.

As the song titles indicate, life doesn’t go well for any of these kids. There’s “The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches,” “Snip Snip (Suck-a-Thumb),” “Fidgety Phil” and “The Story of Cruel Frederick,” to name just a few. But it’s the kind of diabolical tale that’s supposed to make you laugh in your discomfort like a really bad, but well-executed horror story.

The problem is, this co-production of Company One and Suffolk University isn’t cohesive enough to make it a goosebump-inducing good time. The show’s MC, Alexandria King, tries so hard to be hauntingly Victorian-era melodramatic that it feels like she’s overannunciating and overexaggerating to the point of overacting.

Though hers are pretty much the only spoken words you hear, (the vignettes are acted out to narratives), you do get a break from the over the top narration to enjoy the amazing musical performance of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. The bandcaptures the spirit of the piece with their offbeat style and incredible musicianship.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you get to listen to Sickert’s amazing, gravelly voice spin the not-so-lyrical tales of the tortured children.

The problem is there’s no moment in each story when the audience collectively gasps in horror and delight as the little ones meet their fate — death. Instead, each feels buried somewhere beneath a production that seems to want to be a destination rather than an experience.

If you go

“Shockheaded Peter”

Through April 4

Modern Theatre

525 Washington Street, Boston

$25 - $38


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