The devil gets all the best bits in Rachel Shukert’s elaborate, muddled, re-revisionist goof on the legend of Johnny Appleseed. In Johnny Applef?%ker, he’s less a tree-planting pioneer than an unwashed vagrant in a burlap toga (Frank Boyd), more interested in flinging his own seed at all comers.
For a time, this historical doodling is good, dirty fun, as a cast of prefab yokels camp and romp under Stephen Brackett’s brisk direction to twangy original tunes by Jerm Pollet. But if the musical numbers—performed by a ragtag “animal” orchestra led by a folksy raccoon narrator (Ian Unterman)—faintly suggest a broken-down Country Bear Jamboree, the Disney connection is soon made explicit. When diabolical Walt himself (James Ryan Caldwell) schemes with an ex-Nazi scientist (Reginald Veneziano, channeling Prof. Ludwig Von Drake) to use a time machine to spruce up Frontierland, we’re primed for a head-on collision of pristine, idealized Americana with the ornery, smelly reality. The promised combustion fizzles, but something more interesting happens: Walt’s rhapsodies about an eternal childhood soon eclipse the feeble antics of the title character. The danger of invoking Disney, even in monster mode, is that the old showman’s obsessive imagination might steal your show, too.