At a recent rehearsal, Dana Scully dissected a giant goose-woman hybrid while a trio of conspiracy theorists sang a barbershop song and a nightmarish monster called The Most Horrible Thing crept around with an ax.
"We have our own version and standards of what is right," said Lindsay Kerns, co-founder of the Colonel Mustard Amateur Attic Theatre Company, which is putting on a production this weekend of "X-Files: The Musical." "We make no pretense at being actual, legitimate theater. We're lucky when we're off (script). This is more about creating this incredibly unique experience together. And being really entertaining."
Four years back, Kerns and her roommates staged a Christmas party play for a handful of friends in the attic of their mustard-colored home. It was weird, cold and cramped, and it was the start of something special.
After its formation, Colonel Mustard went on to stage a sci-fi re-imagining of "There Will Be Blood" set on Mars called "There Might Be Blood." They soon got bigger and more ambitious, moving the stage to the backyard and adapting "Jurassic Park" and "Dr. Quinn" into musicals, drawing big crowds and even international media attention. The video of "Jurassic Park: The Musical" went viral online, being featured on everything from VH1's "Best Week Ever" to a radio station in Sarajevo.
Past successes had expectations running high for this summer's Colonel Mustard production. The organizers needed something big, something based on a far-reaching pop cultural artifact, rich in backstory, ripe for in-jokes and up to its eyeballs in mythology.
They went with the beloved 1990s sci-fi TV series "The X-Files."
"We discovered with 'Dr. Quinn,' anyone younger than us had no idea what we were talking about," said Phillip Malcom, Colonel Mustard co-founder and "X-Files: The Musical" co-writer/composer. (He also plays Mulder; everyone wears a lot of hats in this company.) "We knew we needed something that would be big and easily recognizable to do as a musical. 'X-Files' was on for a longer period of time, and just a ton of people loved it, all sorts."
"X-Files: The Musical" was a case of "go big or go home" from the start. It's the biggest production Colonel Mustard has staged so far, and it's likely the biggest it ever will put on.
More than 125 people are involved in the play. It features 11 original songs (with titles like "I Want to Believe So Bad" and "Magical Maniacal Humanimals"), a full orchestra, countless creepy costumes and several special effects, practical but grand. And unlike past productions, this one actually has a real budget. To raise some money, Colonel Mustard set up a page on Kickstarter.com, a site that helps wrangle in donations for artists, musicians, filmmakers and the like. The goal for "X-Files: The Musical" was $1,500. The website ended up bringing in more than $4,000.
"X-Files: The Musical" pitches itself as a lost episode taking place between seasons four and five. It works as a stand-alone episode but also touches on the overarching story and mythology of the series. The main plot has Mulder and Scully investigating a mad scientist who mixes humans and animals into unholy abominations called humanimals. But there are also plenty of callbacks to ongoing "X-Files" plots, including the alien conspiracy, Mulder's sister, and Mulder and Scully's never-quite-love-story.
Pretty much every character you can think of makes an appearance: Skinner, the Lone Gunmen (here they're a barbershop quartet, minus one), even obscure characters like the liver-eating mutant serial killer Tooms and the cannibal family from the controversial "Home" episode. Hardcore "X-Files" fans will find countless throwaway references to smile secretly about.
The trick for an "X-Files" musical was to find that sweet spot that would appeal to die-hard fans without alienating casual ones.
"You don't necessarily need to be a fan to enjoy it," said the play's director, Tyler Huckabee. "We definitely wanted to make it accessible enough for people who haven't seen it. Probably half the cast hasn't seen it. We've made it required viewing now. Most practices end with us watching 'X-Files.'"
Scully herself, played by Omaha teacher Laura Hendrickson, hadn't seen many "X-Files" episodes before being cast.
"I wasn't really into this kind of thing," she said. "Now I'm trying to catch up and watch as many as I can."
The viewing marathon also is helping her get into character as the hard-nosed skeptic to Fox Mulder's unflappable believer.
"That's hard for me because I'm not like her at all," Hendrickson said. "I actually want to believe."