LOBSTER BOY!, Calliope Productions, at Duncan YMCA Chernin’s Center for the Arts. The premise of this new musical–inspired by a real-life Lobster Boy–is promising in a campy, Little Shop of Horrors kind of way. A young man suffering from a disease that makes his hands look like claws and his legs end in stumps joins a sideshow and eventually becomes the star attraction and later the owner of the traveling spectacle. There’s even a melodramatic subplot with potential as camp–the deeply neurotic, abusive relationship that develops between Lobster Boy and poor, sweet waif Rosemary Harper, who falls for him the first time he crawls across the stage.

But unfortunately book writer Matthew J. Boresi and composer Michael T. Watkins don’t have a clue how to exploit the most sensational–and potentially provocative–side of this tabloid tale. The Lobster Boy’s strange story loses some of its power in their straightfoward telling. One minute they want us to feel sorry for the poor, put-upon Lobster Boy, and the next we have to watch him brutally beat his long-suffering wife.

Even more troubling is how boring and flat the rest of the characters in this musical are, even when played by actors as strong and likable as Nico M. Lang. As in a real sideshow, one look at the bearded lady, the world’s smallest person, or Lobster Boy himself is enough to satisfy our curiosity.

–Jack Helbig