When pictures of a play adaptation of the classic sci-fi/horror film Alien began circulating the Internet, fans online freaked. Even more so when all the web attention (and money donated by original Alien director Ridley Scott) enabled North Bergen High School of North Bergen, New Jersey, to put up an encore presentation of the show.
Those who couldn’t attend any of the shows but were big fans of the movie lucked out shortly after, though: YouTube user ButtonSmasher recorded the whole show and posted it to their page. Like any good Alien fan, I had to take a look.
Before we get started, I just want to say that there are obviously going to be spoilers for the play/film, but the film is 40 years old, so it’s time for you to get it together already! Also, it is notoriously hard to get a good recording of plays like this, so I’ve done my best to focus on the play and not any technical difficulties ButtonSmasher encountered in their recording. For the most part, though, it isn’t difficult to hear actors and strains of music–mostly the original Alien soundtrack–throughout.
So, the quick overview is that the play is adapted from the 1979 film Alien, with some adaptations, most noticeable in the run time (about a half hour is cut out, but you won’t notice the loss) and a handful of comic interludes. For the most part, it follows the plot of the film.
Sigourney Weaver surprises student cast of Alien: The Play. Ellen Ripley herself visits a NJ high school to praise the teen actors for their DIY #Alien sci-fi play. Read more in my @CNET article here: https://t.co/fmovRrgG37
cc @AlienAnthology @NicholasJSacco @pattonoswalt pic.twitter.com/cS0723fFUB
— Bonnie Burton (@bonniegrrl) April 29, 2019
As always, I’d like to start with the visual aspects of the play, which were impressive. Set design didn’t look exactly like the film, but some aspects–like the Space Jockey and seat and the Nostromo’s computer room–are pretty darn close. A projector screen was also utilized for additional scene setting, sometimes showing the Nostromo’s computer screen, sometimes setting the scene, projecting the Space Jockey’s crashed ship in lieu of building a nearly impossible set piece.
It also acted as the cam for the alien hunting segment at the end of the story, greenscreening the actor over footage from what appeared to be videogame footage. (I’ll admit that this looked a little cheesy, but I’m impressed by the creative solution to a difficult challenge.)
Likewise, the costumes were impressive. Many of them look pretty accurate to the film. Again, with clothing like spacesuits and even the Xenomorph’s costume, it’s pretty damn impressive. It looks legitimate (even if their Xenomorph probably didn’t have a real human skull in the headpiece), which is tough to do with sci-fi elements. Their Xenomorph, if you can believe it, started as a butterfly costume.
Wow! How terrifying is this Xeno costume from the North Bergen Alien play?! pic.twitter.com/VhcmnRAH2l
— Alien (@AlienAnthology) April 27, 2019
As I said earlier, this play pretty much followed the basic story of Alien with some scenes cut and a few comic scenes added to break the tension or help bridge a period of time. For the most part, I didn’t mind the comic scenes–there were decent jokes that weren’t necessarily out of character, and there’s even a great reference to Bill Paxton’s iconic line of despair from Aliens. The only interlude I really couldn’t stand was a break with Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, but it’s right before the story doubles down and the pace picks up, so it felt like a stumble instead of a more smooth, appropriate transition. Overall, though, things ran smoothly in adapting and acting out the story.
Of course, there were scenes I was watching for specifically. There were certain limitations based on stage blocking as opposed to the omniscience of film, but scenes like Brett’s death and the face sucker hatching were still pulled off well even at a different angle. (Seriously, the puppetry was impressive! I can’t figure out how it went so well, even after it was “attached” to Kane’s [David de Diego’s] face.) Scenes were also played straight and then explained in dialogue (such as the scene when characters figure out that the facesucker has acid for blood).
I think the scene that impressed me the most was the chestburster scene. Again, I can’t really figure out how they did the blood spatter effect–but it looks good, almost more impressive than the chestburster itself. The student playing Kane has alarmingly realistic death throes and it certainly is convincing.
I was able to get a ticket to the sold out encore performance of Alien the Play in my hometown of North Bergen!! The kids put on an ASTONISHING show. Check out the chest burst scene. #alientheplay #northbergen #alien #chestburst pic.twitter.com/ajw21yAhWo
— Edith Belmont (@themiddlestkid) April 27, 2019
All of the students, of course, did a great job as well–no matter how everything looks or is scripted and blocked, it all comes to naught if your actors don’t have it. There wasn’t a single weak performance, and in particular, I noticed that Lambert (Britney Gonzalez) was a much stronger character in this adaptation. I paid special attention to Ash (Dakota Rios) as well, who acts just as off-putting and suspicious as his film counterpart to hint at the fact that something is wrong at the very start. And, of course, Ripley (Gabriella Delacruz) is as tough as ever.
All in all, this was an ambitious effort that succeeded despite the limitations that so often flag creative departments of high schools. The hard work paid off and it’s well worth your time if you like the movie, or even if you want to see something different from the normal spring musical fare.
If you are curious about the show, you can watch it here. Video uploader ButtonSmasher mentions in the description that he believes the school did a professional recording as well, so you may be in luck if you would prefer to watch a higher-quality version of the play.