On a warm evening in April, a small team of oddly dressed artists stroll into the Trocadero for that Chinatown club's Monday movie screening. On tap is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan from 1982, a fan fave that draws a packed house with but a few folk dressed in old Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and not-new-Spock (Zachary Quinto) gear.
Soon enough, those artists take over the small balcony stage and begin to badger the crowd into having its Trek trivia tested.
"What Trek episode has the only scene in which the USS Enterprise is seen orbiting a planet from right to left?" bellows Captain Scotch Whiskey, also known as Scott Johnston. (The answer is Star Trek Season 1, Episode 15, from 1966.)
Although Johnston is known to local burlesque aficionados as the emcee for the Peek-a-Boo Revue, on this night he comes as one of the Roddenberries. Named after Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, the group is a klatch of eight musicians and dancers who go fleeting where few others have gone before: playing Trek-related music and acting out Trek-themed sketches for adoring crowds.
"It's difficult to define, but if I had to at phaser-point, I'd say that we're a Trekkified multimedia sci-fi rock cabaret," says the pointy-eared Sister Spock, or Beth Kellner, the Roddenberries' vocalist and flutist.
Before an impromptu showing of the making-of-the-Roddenberries documentary short (www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gIeOswuA-I&feature=youtu.be), the audience is invited to their next performance at the unofficial after-party for this weekend's Star Trek convention in Cherry Hill. At Underground Arts on Friday, the Roddenberries will do their "usual" rocking out to familiar space-music themes while Kellner makes half-a-dozen costume changes, each more seductive than the last.
The Roddenberries hope that gig will become their touring show: "If we truly go boldly, we will be in Vegas for the August Star Trek Convention this year," Johnston says, Vulcan fingers crossed.
Jess Conda is an actress and director with Philly's Brat Productions whose own shows include intergalactic themes and glam-rock soundtracks. She calls the Roddenberries' act - she has seen every performance - a "kooky carnival."
"Their show is like the coolest birthday party you remember from your childhood, the one where everyone's got a sugar high from eating Pop Rocks and jumping on the Moon Bounce all day," Conda said. "They do cabaret right."
Although the group is a culmination of the ideas and talents of eight band members, the Roddenberries were born because of the union of two - Kellner, 42, and Johnston, 47 - and their love of all Trek ideals. For Kellner, that means "acceptance, tolerance, logic, courage, and unity."
When Kellner and Johnston met in 2006, their connection was as much about a shared obsession with all things Spider-Man, Doctor Who, Rocky Horror Picture Show, the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, pasties-and-G-string-style burlesque, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as it was a budding romance.
"The first night Beth and I met for a date thingy, I saw she had all the original Trek series on VHS, labeled on her shelf, as well as all The Prisoner episodes on VHS, labeled similarly," says Johnston. "If that isn't a divine signal from the geek gods, I don't know what is."
Kellner recalls that the first time she saw him in his role with Peek-a-Boo, he did a "crazy, awesome number" based on Ralph Bakshi's animated The Lord of the Rings. "I was mesmerized. I instantly wanted in."
Each had his or her own longtime odd-arts background: Johnston as a filmmaker/videographer, a Fringe Festival producer, a Peek-a-Boo-er, and a Rocky Horror Frank-N-Furter for hire. Kellner was a member of Philly's large-scale cabaret ensemble Big Mess Orchestra (as were Roddenberries bandmates Chris Unrath and Ned Sonstein) and appeared in the 1999 Fringe in a trio act called Sister Spock.
Once their relationship was official, the two joined forces on a few self-penned stage cabarets ("Spidermania," an homage to kids' television surrealists Sid and Marty Krofft) and created a filmmaking partnership - JK Kellston Productions.
The pair shot satirical shorts (including "Star Trek: The Sexperience," a sort of Trek meets Cirque du Soleil) and documentaries about Trek conventions. They even nearly got hitched in 2010 for the sake of a Star Trek Wedding Giveaway contest at the Franklin Institute.
"Scott entered us - he hadn't even proposed - and we won," says Kellner, a holistic therapist, with a laugh. The Franklin ended up offering three couples the same deal, so Kellner and Johnston took the opportunity to celebrate, sans wedding. They made a film about that as well, which, like their others, can easily be found on YouTube.
With all that dedication to Star Trek, how far off could a Star Trek ensemble be?
Soon enough, their friends from Peek-a-Boo Revue's band, from Big Mess Orchestra - even fellow filmmaker Andrew Geller (who became "Landrew" for the Rods) - came together for the Roddenberries.
"I had done Trek things with friends in college but never made it out of the basement," says Kellner. "Some of our members had been playing Trek music for fun forever. Scott and I talked about a Spock-Opera during our first week together. Mainly, we just wanted to create something fun and unique that we would actually go to see."
The Roddenberries' success was quick. They premiered at the Philly Fringe's Late Nite Cabaret in 2012, packed the house, and have continued to sell out venues, especially at Underground Arts.
Brad Siegel, another groom at that Franklin wedding ceremony, is a notable Trek fan. The salesman for WGME/Channel 13 in Maine who is featured in the William Shatner 2012 documentary Get a Life! knows well the many Trek tribute acts (Klingon Music Project, Five Year Mission, Warp 11) and dinner-theater dramatizations out there. He says the Roddenberries try an angle he has never seen before, something darkly comic.
"There's a sweetness, too, that shows their adoration of the series, a bawdiness that shows who they are and all that it stands for while making it palatable for nonbelievers."
Believing is big for Trekkies.
"We are believers in the ideals of Trek, the optimism, for example," Johnston says with great seriousness.