As of now, I’ve seen Dr. Horrible LIVE twice. My companion and three friends enjoyed opening night, and then we came with four other people at the end of Gam3rCon. It’s a testament to this show, itself an adaptation of an internet phenomenon, that it has so much to offer from multiple viewings.
My Constant Readers know me as a film critic, but I also dabble in local community theatre. This show has the do-it-yourself energy and sense of ensemble that community theatre fosters. It also has an immensely professional production staff. As I previously reported, this is a stage creation assembled from a web sensation. Designers David F. Weiner, Michael Lowe, Chris Rynne, Paul Peterson, Karen Li, and Jannifer Mah created a vivid world in the tiny 10th Avenue Theatre space out of walls, light, and shadow. Pianist/conductor Korrie Paliotto’s crisp direction belies the fun energy the band brings.
I know you’re wondering, so I’ll just tell you: they do the van with puppets and an actual van! Seeing a live Captain Hammer astride a big white Astro running down pedestrians is a true Theatre Moment. The act of placing the van remote control isn’t super clear; if you hadn’t seen the film you might miss it altogether, but it’s a minor quibble once you’re in Hammer’s headlights. The set consists of two movable wall pieces, a permanent Dr. Horrible lab, and a catwalk fronted with a two-story scrim used for projections and shadow play. Panels of colored light frame the shadows like a comic strip, and the two levels allow for distance and scale. The shadow work is effective and even moving — and adds much depth to the words. The band, dressed as the Evil League of Evil, hovers above the action, pulling new and wacky instruments out of their arsenal at every turn. Choreographer Karen Li’s movement and dance is fluid and uses every bit of the space. Director Andy Lowe has truly made this show his own (oh, and Zack Whedon LOVED it).
Of course most audience members want to know: Can the cast step into the shoes of these nerd gods and pull it off? Yes, yes they can. Nathan Turner (Dr. Horrible) owns this character from the start. Billy/Horrible is the richest role in the show, and Turner finds his own real way to inhabit him. It is a different take than NPH, yet totally true to the core character. Heresy it may be, but I actually prefer some of Turner’s interpretations. Michael Minto’s Captain Hammer is a cartoon to begin with, and thus a challenge to enrich. Minto makes Hammer more lovable and even more of a prat than you might think possible. For that one line you’re waiting for, the choice he makes is perfect in this venue. Jane Lui plays a Penny whose backstory was developed for this production. She has an origin tale beautifully staged in shadow play and a foster mom (Susan Hammons), and Lui runs with it. I’d never have guessed this was her first play — she’s funny and natural on stage. She sings beautifully, albeit softly, causing her to fade a little behind her bombastic costars, but she brings it on “My Eyes” in particular.
The ensemble is having great fun filling in the world around the leads. From laundry-doers to dancing homeless, from panicked townspeople to named support roles, everyone bring a real sense of investment to their roles. Zack Wolfe (Moist/Hammer Fan) gleefully squeezes comedy out of every opportunity. Claire Kaplan (Reporter) commits to her scenes with fire, and it’s hard not to watch her during everything. Hammons is warm and shapes the added Penny content. Michael Nieto (Mayor/Bad Horse Trio) plays tuba and mandolin (no nose flute, alas) and four featured characters, and seems to have the most costume changes of anyone. July 24 he injured himself backstage and came on later sporting a band-aid and ad-libbing with Kaplan about it. It was a peek into their strong ensemble. As for Adina Silva, Thomas Lokensgard, and Karen Li, I loved their energy and they had fun things to do, but they had fewer opportunities to shine — in front of the stage. I recognized their contributions in other ways, however. In shadow play they anonymously portray other characters; thus silhouetted they continue the characters’ stories so well that you forget it’s not the “real” actor doing it.
Seriously, folks, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog LIVE is a great evening of entertainment and you can still see it through July 30. Get yourself down there and show some love and have a great time.