New Comic-Con musical premieres at Hollywood Fringe
To the same extent that Comic-Con appeals to many people on many things just outside of comic book and superhero lore—Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien (and anything alien)—so would anyone who appreciates a well-crafted, funny, sometimes dark (well, medium shade of gray) uplifting romp like Comic-Con the Musical.
Book by Nicholas David Brandt and lyrics and music by Laura Watkins, Comic-Con the Musical was about two years in the making according to Brandt, and it shows. Their first-time collaborative venture celebrates that unique phenomenon that is likely now a permanent institution in our contemporary entertainment culture, the comic book convention. Like a cozy, wool blanket, the show both warmly embraces and occasionally picks at cosplay, contests, panel frenzy, long lines, and all the life dreams that a contemporary entertainment Fan-Con inspires.
One of the highlight numbers in the show is “Super Christian Psychic Alcoholic Alien Detective” with David MacLeod Haines (Jason) and a lively chorus ensemble of “Con-fans” in who enact and react to the title moniker of the comic book he pitches at the Con.
“The character of Jason was heavily influenced by my own Con experience. I went to Con with a comic book that I’d written … and had a surprisingly hard time getting anyone to accept one, despite it being free,” Brandt said on the experience that included show poster artist Scott Arnold and his work.
“Comic-Con! Four days of living a dream, four days of life without tears.
Comic-con! There’s no place like it on earth, I wish I lived here all year!” – Intro/Comic-Con
The strong, vocal-rich cast, which took the show runners about a month to find, really delivers, especially on the amazing quodlibets of “Intro/Comic-Con” and “Hashtag” with members of the company ensemble Spencer M. Carney, Jessica Gardner, Abigail Herman Margulis, Holly King Bennett, Mark Lewis, Sierra Marshall, and Shawn Skye.
Flarg Princess (Mariah Rose Faith,) who may or may not actually be an alien, quickly delivers foreshadowing with an oh-too-familiar (not a red herring) red hat, with “Can I interest you in this very ordinary, completely harmless and absolutely not a mind control hat?,” to which a fan’s mindless response is “Ooo, FREE HAT!” during her lovely “A Flarg’s Lament.”
“I am here for DB Coates’ Vempire. I’m the most popular fanfic writer on his board, I think I’m qualified—no, more than qualified!—to join his writer team!”— Anna
Christina Lea as Anna, in expressing desire to both become part of a writing team on the show and for her own idol, DB Coates, lends her own power to “Vempire.”
“From Lord of the Rings fans through Twilight Fans, and all the Spidermans in between that, there’s NOTHING that could make me laugh at you!”— Drew
Character Drew seeks inspiration for his own cosplay character’s motivation to fly in “Something Missing,” beautifully sung by Michael D’Elia.
Watkins’ organ synthesizer-rich opening to the haunting “Allen Gray,” sung by Luke Adams and company, gives weight to the character Gray and his worship-inducing charm of con fans of the fictional Oceanus.
“Masquerade” is simultaneously an homage to the best of con cosplay traditions and a phantom nod to another musical with a number of the same name. “Superhero Vampire’s in Space” is another inspiring number, and the seductive “Thor’s Hammer,” with powerful vocals by Lea (Anna) and Ryan Shrime as DB Coates, delivers well-timed innuendo.
Shrime also impresses with DB Coates’ funny examination in self-awareness “I Have Always Been a Douchebag.”
On inspiration in general, Brandt said some of his own Con experiences are reflected in the character of Anna, but had this note regarding the character of DB Coates: “I’d love to say that DB Coates was purely fictional, but I know I’ve run across one or two douchebags in my journeys as well.”
With Sacred Fools, smaller theater—by its very nature and hard to criticize—can inhibit in ways that are unavoidable. The theater’s acoustic nature can not help but have a tendency to favor piano accompaniment and overpower solo vocalists, especially on low note drop. But in that it also gives power in its intimacy to the ensemble and their vocals, which in both cases reflects on Comic-Con the Musical on only about three pieces out of 25 numbers. Those are good odds.
Jessica Gardner gives great attention to detail in her choreography, along with her direction with Brandt, both bringing spirit and vibrant energy, and giving the production a larger-in-scale feel than what the Sacred Fools can house, yet making a good fit.
Reflected in the program notes are the aspirations that the show creators have for the future look and feel of Comic-Con the Musical, of which they have asked us to imagine. The honest truth is the show stands very well on its own without massive sets, orchestra pit, backdrop, or fly space. But dreaming for it is also good, especially on a show that is about dreaming.
From the con line massage in “Amazing,” to the social media sharing in “Hashtag,” Comic-Con the Musical has a strong pulse on both the con-fan and musical theater loving fan alike.
I give Comic-Con the Musical an “OMG, Squee!!!”