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GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Thursday, July 19, 7:45 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 12 p.m.
They Say: “Supernova is L.A.’s most celebrated superhero, but a little cocaine problem lands him in rehab. With superpowers, relapses, rock bottoms and comedy, Superhero Celebrity Rehab offers a musical look behind the masks of America’s most screwed-up superheroes.”
Chris’s Take: If you weren’t reading superhero comics in the ’90s, no one could blame you. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were both revolutionary in 1986 for the way they put their violent antiheroes’ utter dysfunctionality in the foreground, but it took only a few short years for the nihilism of these comics to infect the entire industry. By 1994, it seemed like every costumed “hero” was just a steroid-puffed sociopath. I don’t know if Warren Ellis or Mark Millar ever actually wrote a comic about a smack-addicted superhero, but it sure seems like one of them must have.
Superhero Celebrity Rehab doesn’t care about any of that. It’s just a smartly written, wonderfully performed riff that delivers on every word of its title except maybe “celebrity.” It has a funny premise wherein Supernova—-a gold-lame-clad caped narcissist who”s way too attached to his pet turtle, Thunder—-gets suspended from “the force” and ordered to clean himself up by “the commissioner” (Because he’s a cop? What?) after his insatiable appetite for blow nearly botches his rescue of a kidnapped producer of reality TV shows. Among the producer’s credits are Albuquerque’s Sluttiest Cops and Man Versus Leech. So far, so great!
Supernova checks into Horizons, an addiction clinic for superheroes. There he meets Critter, a “borderline retarded” introvert gifted with super-speed; The Scarlet Letter, an aging super-seductress wrestling with sex addiction (and with whomever will wrestle with her); Nightmare the Night-Stallion, who seems to have telepathic abilities but no substance abuse issues; and The Great Fondue, a food addict with no discernible superpowers. Fondue is mostly just here to suffer a surfeit of fat jokes. Guess what happens every time he tries to sit in a chair?
The founder of the clinic is Dr. Bonnie (a winsome Farrell Parker), herself a recovering addict and retired costumed hero.”What were you on?” Supernova asks her. “You name it!” she replies. “Beer, pot, heroin. Mostly heroin.”
Brendan Snow and William Segal‘s book is so sharp and the comic performances from the entire company so specific and authoritative that I kind of resented it every time the action paused for a musical number. Your mileage may vary, but this is a common complaint among those of us in whom the musical theater gene is not innate. I know that I am not alone, even among people who regularly see theater. Unless the melodies are impulse-control-obliterating in their tunefulness and the lyrics a rush of comic of verse, we would prefer the characters just, um, shut up and talk.
So consider that strong bias when I tell you that as I write this the following day, Segal’s music and lyrics haven’t stuck in my mind the way the jokes, the performances, and my admiration for the satisfying shape of Snow and Segal’s predictable but warm story all have. I should also point out that even though this 105-minute show is lavishly produced by Fringe standards, one material compromise is that the entire score is performed by a lone (and unidentified in the program) musician on an electric piano—-an instrument that could make Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” sound dinky.
So if we can set aside the flawed thinking that led Segal and Snow to conclude their musical comedy needed to have music in it, what we’re left with is—-with the exception of the too many fat jokes—-delightful. Bill Coyne has that Tom Cruise arrogant-guy-awaiting-comeuppance thing down as Supernova, and Joshua Morgan—-who has performed with Rehab‘s director, Brian Sutow in prior Fringe festivals as the comic duo Assembly Required; the two also run No Rules Theater Company together—-once again shows himself to be one of the most generous comedic actors around. He has great instincts about when to call attention to himself and when to hang back. As The Great Fondue, Phil Reid is saddled with an underwritten role but still turns in a fun vocal performance, as, I think, Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons.
Why, yes, this fractious group of misfits does learn to value one another’s quirks and unites to vanquish a common foe. Have you peeked at the script or something?
Is it funny that one of the two writers of this musical about a cocaine-addicted superhero is named Brendan Snow? I don’t know. Is it funny that the director of The Amazing Spider-Man is named Marc Webb? I kind of think it is.
See It If: Smart, character-based comedy is your Cosmic Cube.
Skip It If: You thought of The Avengers as “the new Mark Ruffalo movie.”