BWW Reviews: ADVENTURES OF A COMIC BOOK ARTIST Ka-POWS! Its Way Onto York Little Theatre Stage
Faster than a Shakespearian soliloquy, more powerful than a Pinter production, it's a bird, it's a plane – no, it's Pat Lyderson's (book/lyrics) and Wendy Wolf's (music) THE ADVENTURES OF A COMIC BOOK ARTIST, directed by Rebecca Wolf at York Little Theatre. Shakespeare it isn't – this is a family musical, starring a senior high freshman, Stephen Baker, as Stanley Leonardo Sappovitz, Wonder Comics janitor and frustrated comic book artist, and third-grader Sarah Stark as DC Wunderman, the uber-capitalist publisher of Wonder Comics, unconvinced of Stanley's talents and determined to find a scheme to promote Wonder Comics to incredible sales heights.
Wunderman's solution? A mail-order catalog has promised, absolutely guaranteed-to-work, powerful pens from Peloponnesia (hey kids, research that place for extra credit in history class!) that will cause anything drawn with them to come to life. She tasks her artists to devise a new superhero and his sidekicks, unaware that the most colorful character, Dr. Shock Clock (Alex Wilkinson, whose portrayal is eerily and cheerily reminiscent of Mike Myers' Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers films), and his twelve Minutos, are in fact not superheroes but super villains. Stanley's love interest, Viola (Ginny Peck), who just happens to be Wunderman's secretary, provides Stanley with his own powerful Peloponnesian pen, with which he sketches his own quartet of supers – the charismatic but narcissistic Star Guy (Austin O'Connell), the small but speedy Triple Time (Zach DePorter), the blissfully organic Blossom (Allison Thomas), whose uniform boasts plentiful magic flowers, and the grouchy but clever Wombat Woman (a terrific Vail Varone), whose superpower is the ability to burrow into any substance known to man.
When all else, including the Fabulous Four – the name for Stanley's super quartet – fails and three of the four heroes are kidnapped, along with DC Wunderman and her art staff, thanks to the devious Dr. Shock Clock's ability to stop time, and to freeze people in their tracks – Stanley and Viola are forced to resort to desperate measures to save the city from disaster. In the best superhero tradition, all are rescued by a mysterious new superhero, whose identity is unknown to all, and Stanley returns to life as Wonder Comics' janitor… or does he?
Stephen Baker is a fine young stage talent, now in his twelfth show with YLT since 2007; originally a Lost Boy, her has starred as Bilbo Baggins in THE HOBBIT and as Henry in HENRY AND RAMONA. He's a gift to local stage, with good stage presence, and an interest in continuing acting. He plans, however, to study English rather than drama in college, with an eye to writing, rather than acting, as a career, "but being a movie star wouldn't be so bad, either," he admits. ADVENTURES is close to being right up his alley in combining those interests, although "I'm not really a comic book fanatic" – his tastes run to science fiction and fantasy as preferred reading. We hope to look forward to his continued presence on local stages for some time to come.
Sarah Stark, the very young DC Wunderman, is a find for YLT. This eight-year-old spitfire can already command a stage, and manages to keep all eyes on Wunderman when the dictatorial publisher cuts loose in her office. She says, "I just love my character," and she has a right to; Wunderman is a strong female character in two genres (musical theatre and comics-related matters) where strong women are hard to come by, and Stark pulls her off at a very young age. She's a natural, and area children's Theatre Projects are well-advised to look her up.
Outside of Baker and Stark, Wilkinson and Varone must be singled out for some truly fine work. Dr. Shock Clock is without doubt the most amusing super villain since Dr. Evil, and Wilkinson clearly relishes his role as the Master of Minutes and controller of a swarm of black-clad, greedy minions; he's a time lord of a totally different stripe than Doctor Who. Varone, the grumpy, wardrobe-concerned Wombat Woman, really conveys the sadness of a super hero who feels completely underutilized in a team – even if, as a martial marsupial, she comes equipped with a super pocket in her uniform.
Rebecca Wolf, who also teaches with New Hope Academy, has done a fine job with a large group of children who manage to Ka-Pow! and Blam! their way into audience hearts.
Credit must also be given to YLT for arranging mini comic conventions between shows on Saturdays, which can only encourage younger audience members to read more, and for having a disabled performance scheduled. Relaxed lighting and sound, and ASL interpretation of the show, are positive steps for bringing live theatre to children who might otherwise be deprived of such experience. It can only be hoped that YLT will consider adding ASL performances to as many shows as possible, both children's and adult, just as Fulton Theatre is now working with ASL performances, and that other theatres will also consider providing more disability accommodation for patrons. When theatres across the country are asking how they can bring more patrons to seats, the theatres that are the most welcoming to groups previously excluded from live performance will certainly be in the forefront of creating a new generation of theatre audience.
Parents: No even remotely bad language, no violence (these super people use mysterious super powers, not guns, fists, or martial arts), no blood and guts, no super-sexy super costumes on female characters, no religious references of any sort, no jokes you'll be embarrassed to explain, and Good Wins, one hundred percent. Almost anyone should find this completely safe for children of all ages.
THE ADVENTURES OF A COMIC BOOK ARTIST runs through September 30 at York Little Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 717-854-5715 or from www.ylt.org.
Photo Credit: York Little Theatre