After a string of performances channeling various contemporary and retro hitmakers—Lionel Richie, R. Kelly, Phil Collins—Neal Medlyn takes on a bona fide genius in Unpronounceable Symbol. In the piece, his name is Jerry, and he’s not entirely funky. But from the opening tableau—dominated by a bed draped in purple and gold and surrounded by strewn flowers—to the word “Slave” scrawled across Medlyn’s back, the animating presence of the artist once again known as Prince is unmistakable. Medlyn alternates covers drawn from the Purple One’s catalog with narrative scenes that draw upon both Prince’s lyrics and iconic moments from his career.
The lanky, pasty, and bespectacled Medlyn revels in the sheer incongruity of presenting himself as His Royal Badness, running through such gems of the Paisley Park catalog as “Erotic City,” “The Cross,” and “The Beautiful Ones.” He’s ably supported by a backing band led by Kiki & Herb’s Kenny Mellman, standing in for either Wendy or Lisa, while drummer Carmine Covelli turns in a gruff and aptly sleazy Morris Day impersonation. Despite their exuberance, Medlyn and company don’t come near the mythopoeic extravagance of their subject. As it shifts from a fairly faithful recap of Purple Rain to a vision of hell that may forever color your thoughts about whack-a-mole, ultimately Neal Medlyn’s Unpronounceable Symbol remains a kind of downtown Jersey Boys—danceable, entertaining, and not terribly edifying.