Review: BOOP! THE MUSICAL Pre-Broadway World Premiere Presented By Broadway In Chicago

The world premiere musical runs through December 24, 2023

By: Dec. 07, 2023
Review: BOOP! THE MUSICAL Pre-Broadway World Premiere Presented By Broadway In Chicago
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Betty Boop is making her stage debut...and thanks to Jasmine Amy Rogers in the role, she’s making a real star turn. I truly didn’t know what to expect when BOOP! THE MUSICAL was announced. How would a cartoon character featured primarily in animated shorts from 1930-1939 make her way into a 2023 musical? The answer ends up being a conventionally plotted, enjoyable visual wonder with some classic big musical numbers. BOOP! THE MUSICAL brings the bops and good vibes.

With direction and choreography from Jerry Mitchell, BOOP! THE MUSICAL is nicely paced and visually appealing — even though, of course, some plotlines and numbers could still be refined. With lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, music by David Foster, and book by Bob Martin, BOOP! THE MUSICAL’s plot is best described as a mix of Disney’s ENCHANTED, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, and BARBIE. Let me explain. The musical opens in Betty Boop Cartoon Land. Our title character is the pop culture epicenter that makes the black-and-white cartoon world turn. Weary from the constant pressure of the movie spotlight (which is all too briefly explained in the show’s opening number “A Little Versatility” and one book scene thereafter), Betty decides to take a vacation to the real world. Betty sets off in her Grampy’s universe-transcending machine...and arrives in 2023 New York City. Conveniently, she literally lands in the arms of the handsome and kind trumpeter Dwayne (Ainsley Anthony Melham) at New York City Comic Con. Even more conveniently, Dwayne’s younger sister Trisha (Angelica Hale) happens to be the biggest Betty Boop fan and all too charmed to meet her hero — even if Betty’s trying to disguise her cartoon identity.

B-plots include a storyline about Trisha’s intelligent-but-frazzled Aunt Carol (Anastacia McCleskey), who’s running the mayoral campaign for the slimy Raymond Demarest (Erich Bergen), and a love story between Grampy (Stephen DeRosa) and his long-lost love Valentina (Faith Prince). The former is the musical’s attempt to include some higher stakes into the show, with some tidy moral takeaways. The latter, while a fun showcase for DeRosa and Prince, is sweet but not really interwoven into the main Betty storyline. 

The most compelling reason to see BOOP! THE MUSICAL is Betty herself. While the narrative isn’t new or insightful, Rogers is inspired. It’s cliché to say, but she’s full of spunk and star power. Rogers has hit on that magical combination of sure-footed and vulnerable at the same time; she seems so at ease on stage, but she connects beautifully with the character’s emotional longings. 

While Foster’s score is cohesive, that also means it’s mostly not memorable. One big exception is “Where I Wanna Be,” Betty’s bombastic act one closer. She conveniently performs it as a diegetic number at a jazz club, wowing her love interest Dwayne and giving audiences a “knock their socks off” moment before the curtain comes down.

BOOP! THE MUSICAL is a visual marvel. While I think Mitchell’s choreography still needs some refining, he infuses his signature big ensemble dance numbers into the show and lots of tap dancing. David Rockwell’s set makes New York City look cleaner, brighter, and more appealing than it ever has in real life; his technicolor scheme is gorgeous. Gregg Barnes’s costumes are similarly dazzling; his costume designs are extremely liberal with the sequins, and I welcome that. 

Rogers has great company in her cast. Melham is sweet as Dwayne, and he makes some crisp vocal choices that recall the likes of Michael Bublé and Frank Sinatra — fitting for a jazz lover. Hale has a huge belt and stage presence; it’s impressive she’s only 16. While DeRosa and Prince are perhaps underutilized, they’re fun onstage together. I also adored the inclusion of Betty’s dog, Pudgy (Phillip Huber), with marionette design from The Huber Marionettes. The Pudgy marionette is an absolutely inspired design choice, and one of the most creative elements. 

Rogers earns the title billing in every way. She’s endlessly compelling, and her lead performance is a musical theater dream. While BOOP! THE MUSICAL is not a musical we need, Rogers is absolutely the star I want in the title role — and she’s no doubt worth seeing. 

The pre-Broadway world premiere of BOOP! THE MUSICAL runs through December 24, 2023 at the CIBC Theatre, 18 West Monroe Street.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman