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BWW Reviews: THE POKEMUSICAL Goes on an Adventure

I know next to nothing about Pokémon and from the photos I'd seen I figured THE POKEMUSICAL would simply be a family-friendly musical that might be cute and probably fun, but I never imagined I would love it as much as I did. Creativity is everywhere in this satirical journey of a 10-year old boy named Ash (Seth Salsbury) who strikes out to become the greatest Poké Master of all time.

Taking his very first pokémon, a Pikachu (Kelsey Schulte), with him, he overcomes various challenges, which include besting the evil Team Rocket trio who are determined to steal his Pikachu for their master Giovanni (Joseph McMahon), giving up his selfishness and insensitivity while learning what it takes to be a friend, and eventually understanding that one cannot truly be powerful unless one is also kind. It's the way he gets there that ultimately makes this original musical so much fun that you're ready for the sequel before the first installment is even over.

I think if you were also familiar with the Pokémon games and anime series this show would have an additional level of punch but, even without the insider knowledge, I never felt like I was being left out of the jokes. Quite the contrary, the writing is fresh, concise, and filled with the kind of surprising detail that keeps you invested all the way through its 90-minute intermission-less staging.

Alex Syiek (book & lyrics) and Andrew Cooper (music) are the creative team behind the show which makes its appearance here at the Hollywood Fringe following an initial production in Ohio earlier this year. The reception has been overwhelming and, if anything, this unlikely sleeper hit just may emerge from the Fringe with enough juice to give it a longer life. And it should.

The characters are delightfully quirky and director Joanna Syiek (Alex's sister) pulls out the funniest characteristics of them all making it as much fun to root, however briefly, for the bad guys' advances as it is to cheer for the good guys' wins. Her ability to surprise the audience with the unexpected choice is one of the smartest consistencies you'll find throughout.

Salsbury is a wholesome ball of energy as Ash and dives into his 10-year old self with unrestrained glee. His discovery that he actually cares about his Pikachu is a heartfelt realization that is a game changer for the good guys, plus he's also got a terrific tenor voice and an 11 o'clock number that doesn't disappoint.

Gary (Tyler Ledon), his rival, is a weird combination of wonderful, with spiky hair and a penchant for showing up exactly when Ash doesn't want him to that never fails to elicit a hilarious response from Ash. His traveling companions Misty (Heather Ensley) and Brock (Richie Ferris) and ensemble members Nathan Klingenberg and Caleb Mills Stewart also add some very funny moments to the journey.

Team Rocket is made up of two humans, Jamie Mills as the sexy vamp Jesse and Peyton Crim as James, a John Lithgow look-alike in a purple wig whose droll comments never fail to land, and Meowth (Josh Hillinger), a very odd cat pokémon you need to watch in action to appreciate. They sing an outrageous "Double Trouble" while trying to steal Pikachu that will have you laughing out loud and the ensemble's "Jigglypuff Canon" comes so far out of left field that it is by far the most well-played joke of the night.

The underrated Pikachu has her own secret way of communicating with the audience when the rest of the characters are not looking that is another great surprise and Schulte delivers her classically written speeches so dead seriously that you can't fail to see the absurdity in them. She's even got her own dramatic lighting effect. In addition to the diabolical Giovanni, McMahan's other characters are all delightfully twisted and fun.

Vibrant characters, smart writing, and even smarter direction make this musical much more than it appears at first glance. It pays tribute to its Pokémon source material in the best way possible and takes the audience on a journey it will never forget.

Pictured above: Richie Ferris as Brock, Seth Salsbury as Ash and Kelsey Schulte as Pikachu. Photo credit: Lyssa Samuel

Through June 28, 2013
Color and Light Theatre Ensemble
Theatre Asylum
6322 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90038

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