BWW Reviews: DR. HORRIBLEĀ'S SING-ALONG BLOG at Balagan Theatre
Balagan Theatre is currently presenting the stage version of the internet sensation "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" written by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. And while the show had some technical issues, it is anything but horrible.
Based on the three part internet movie from 2008 (and subsequent DVD), the show follows the exploits of Dr. Horrible (a.k.a. Billy), an aspiring mad scientist villain who just wants to be in the Evil League of Evil with the likes of Bad Horse. But beyond that, Billy just wants to be able to get up the nerve to talk to the girl of his dreams, Penny, whom he sees at his local Laundromat. So when one of Dr. Horrible's heists goes awry thanks to his nemesis, Captain Hammer who then "saves" Penny, we get one of the most bizarre love triangles since Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor. Except here, Lex is not so competent and a really sweet guy, Lois is not sure she wants to be saved, and Superman is kind of a jerk.
The show itself is filled with amazing songs (yes it is a musical but you will not be forced to Sing-Along no matter what the title says), crisp and clever dialog, and a beautiful and heart wrenching ending. But anyone that has seen the movie knows that. Does it sound like I'm a big fan of this show? Well, I am. I must admit a huge affinity for this show and really all things Whedon. And because of that, I had very high expectations for this stage version. And in most respects I was not disappointed.
The cast is whatever the antonym of horrible is. Superb? Sure, we'll go with that one. Annie Jantzer as Penny has a lovely voice and inhabits Penny's songs quite well. Although I would have liked to have seen a bit more conflict about her relationship with these two men. Jake Groshong is hysterical as the swaggering blow Hard, Captain Hammer. He managed to embody the pompous mentality of the Captain (think frat boy with a little too much power) and belted out some of the most deliciously vile lyrics with ease. And then there's the Dr. himself played by Eric Ankrim. I've seen Ankrim in a few shows out at Village Theatre and he never fails to impress. His voice is incredible and he managed to make the bad guy, the sweetest and most likable character in the piece. But still he kept the part his own and not a clone of Neil Patrick Harris (the original Dr. Horrible). Not an easy task with such a well known character (for those that know the movie).
And while the three leads were wonderful, the show was almost stolen away from them by the amazing supporting cast and ensemble. Not only did they keep the play moving along at a lightening pace with their energy and incredible voices, but they each also got their moments to shine, and shine they did. The Dr. Horrible songs were not the only ones in the show. Other songs from the musical Commentary track off the DVD were also inserted, and in perfect places. The Commentary songs don't really have anything to do with the story but more focus on the actors themselves. So to include them is risky as you could interrupt the flow of the show. Not a problem here. Directors Ankrim and M. Elizabeth Eller put them in the perfect places so as not to break up the story, and then handed them off to a group of very talented performers. Brian Lange, Diana Huey, Christine Nelson, Ryan McCabe, Bill Williams, Ashley Flannegan and Butch Stevenson created one of the best ensembles I've ever seen. And add to that brilliantly simple staging and choreography from Ankrim and Eller. Who needs a big production number when you have laundry baskets?
But no show is perfect right out of the gate right? The night I saw it there were quite a few technical issues. It seemed if it plugged in, they were having a problem with it. And the problems while I'm sure will be ironed out, left me wondering why they were there to begin with. All of the projections seemed unnecessary for this piece as did the body mics worn by the cast. The Balagan space is quite small and with a few sound cue adjustments, the audience can hear everyone just fine. And there was no need to try and resemble the movie so much with the technical aspect. It really just distracted and diluted the action more than anything. And with such an amazing cast, the technical aspect was completely superfluous.
So I'm sure as time goes on, they will work out these bumps in the road, But even with them, the show is funny, touching and an irreverent good time and one not to be missed. Unless you're evil, in which case you REALLY shouldn't miss it. But leave your Death Ray back at your lair.
"Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" plays at Balagan Theatre through September 4th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org.
Photo Credits: M. Elizabeth Eller