Interview: Jonathan Hogue Explains How STRANGER SINGS Found Its Voice

Stranger Sings runs off Broadway at the Players Theatre through Sunday, September 5th.

By: Aug. 11, 2021
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Interview: Jonathan Hogue Explains How STRANGER SINGS Found Its Voice
Adele Simms, Jalen Bunch, Dean Cestari,
Patrick Howard, and Ariana Perlson

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical has officially returned from the Upside Down with its off-Broadway premiere at The Players Theatre (115 MacDougal St.), ahead of an official Opening Night set for Wednesday, August 11th, with the strictly limited engagement set to run through Sunday, September 5th.

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical, which originally played two sold-out concert runs at Feinstein's/54 Below, is a wild and irreverent send-up of the hit Netflix series "Stranger Things" and all its campy 80's glory. Take a trip back to Hawkins, Indiana, 1983: when times were simpler, hair was bigger, and unsupervised children were getting snatched by inter-dimensional creatures. Join Mike, Eleven, Lucas, Dustin, and the whole Hawkins gang for a night of adventure, thrills, indulgent pop culture references, pubescent angst, heavy synth, poor parenting, convoluted love triangles, cheap effects, dancing monsters, and maybe, just maybe... justice for everyone's favorite frumpy ginger, Barb Holland.

Before you take your own trip to the Upside Down, learn more about the show from writer and producer Jonathan Hogue.

When/how did the idea strike to musicalize Stranger Things?

I became such a massive fan of Stranger Things when it first hit Netflix, and found myself wanting to stay in that world long after I finished watching. I loved seeing how the internet took aspects from the show - like crazy Joyce with her lights and Eleven with her Eggos - and created this whole culture of iconography from the show (not to mention #JusticeForBarb, which I always thought was hilarious and amazing). And so, of course, given my background in musical theatre and especially comedy/parody, that love for the series sort of evolved into an exploration of Stranger Things through a musical satire lens. It was after Season 2 came out in 2017 that I really started diving into the series to see how I could create a cohesive musical structure out of the material. I knew it was important that the show retained a lot of these iconic looks and moments from the series that fans loved, but also functioned naturally in the world of musical comedy. It's evolved a lot over the last few years (especially as new seasons have come out), but it's been fun to see what new inspiration strikes as we continue to bring new actors and minds into the room to create this show.

Interview: Jonathan Hogue Explains How STRANGER SINGS Found Its Voice
Michael Kaish (music director), Jonathan Hogue (book, music, lyrics),
Nick Flatto (director), and Ashley Marinelli (choreography)

What kind of reactions have you gotten from audiences?

Our audience response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic! This show is a joy machine, and we're already seeing some audience members planning return visits. I've been so surprised to see night to night how each audience responds to different moments in the show - we have so many hilarious bits and references peppered throughout, and I love seeing how each audience picks up on different things with each performance. As much as I love hearing those jokes that land a huge laugh from everyone, it's also one of my favorite things to hear when a niche reference gets a big cackle from two or three specific people that caught it. We've got jokes from the series, as well as lots of musical theatre and 80's pop culture references that hit with different people each night. Overall, I'm excited to hear that the show is really landing with those who are fans of the series as well as those who have never seen it! There is really something for everyone in this show.

Were there any characters or scenes that you found particularly easy/hard to make sing?

Joyce was the easiest, by far. Winona Ryder (who plays Joyce on Stranger Things) is already working at such a high level of melodrama in the series that its almost feels like a self-parody of Winona herself. I knew she had to have a show stopping number in the middle of the show with all of her lights, so I easily found her musical style pulling from more traditional musical theatre diva numbers. The bigger challenges were finding the sound of characters that were less easily defined like Steve or Nancy, but eventually found them best pulling from the 80's rock/pop sounds of the era - Nancy carries more Olivia Newton John / Cyndi Lauper musical stylings, whereas Steve gives us some real hair metal sound. As I was writing the show, I eventually created a playlist of musical inspirations that helped me find the right sound and musical texture for each character, which was a huge aid in the process.

Interview: Jonathan Hogue Explains How STRANGER SINGS Found Its Voice
Ariana Perlson

Do you have a favorite moment in the show?

An impossible question - I have SO many. But I think Eleven's song "The Dad I Never Had" is a special one for me. The whole show up until this song is high energy silliness, and this number is the first moment of stillness where the audience really engages with one of our characters in a sincere, heartfelt moment. It always seems to catch audience members off guard because it's delivered so sincerely. But, even though it's an emotional song, I also wanted it to have a tongue in cheek quality, and aimed to have both work in tandem without cancelling each other out ("Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop was a big inspiration in finding that right balance). It's this song that gives the show its heart, and helps define the show's emotional through line that the rest of the irreverent comedy can hinge off of. Our actress Ariana Perlson, who plays Eleven, nails this song every night, and it's one of my proudest moments as a writer when it lands well with the audience.

Interview: Jonathan Hogue Explains How STRANGER SINGS Found Its Voice
Savannah-Lee Mumford

Do you have any predictions for season 4? Do you think we will ever see #JusticeforBarb?

I'm excited to see in this upcoming season an expansion into the world outside of Hawkins. I feel like there's so much more we don't know about the Upside Down and some of these characters. The Duffer Brothers are such geniuses, and they continually top themselves with every new season - I'm sure this next season will be the best yet. As for #JusticeForBarb, well... I think our show may be the closest we get to that. ;)

What are you most looking forward to in the run ahead?

I'm just so excited for people to see the show and to have a great time. It's such a silly silly show with so much heart, and our cast and crew are truly giving 110% every night. I consider it such a blessing to come back from this long hiatus from theatre and gather in a space with others to laugh together, and not one that I want to take for granted. To even have a hand in bringing that joy to others in this time is the biggest honor. I'm excited for fans and non fans alike to come into this world together and enjoy this story as I have for so long. We're all having a blast, and I hope our audiences do too!

Interview: Jonathan Hogue Explains How STRANGER SINGS Found Its Voice
Caroline Huerta, Adele Simms, Jalen Bunch, Dean Cestari, Patrick Howard, Garrett Poladian, Jason Daniel Chacon, Ariana Perlson and Savannah-Lee Mumford

Stranger Sings! will play the following schedule: Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets begin at $39 and are available at Premium tickets run at $79 and include a complimentary beer or wine and a limited-edition pin.

For more information, please visit

Photo Credit: Bruce Glikas