|STRANGER SINGS! THE PARODY MUSICAL|
Audience members who have spent more than a few hours visiting the “upside down” over the past few years will positively flip for “Stranger Sings: The Parody Musical,” a sly, affectionate and sometimes hilarious send-up of the Netflix megahit series “Stranger Things,” now at Playhouse 46 at St. Luke’s.
While familiarity with the show’s source material will definitely breed contentment, the really good news is you’ll be thoroughly entertained even if you have no knowledge of the show – thanks to the clever yet simple-enough book and score by Jonathan Hogue, the well-paced direction of Nick Flatto, and above all, the sublime effort of the hard-working eight-person cast (many of whom play multiple roles), Walt Spangler’s brilliantly busy set, complete with everything from a hanging wall phone to a Dungeons & Dragons table center-stage, instantly transports us to the 1980s, a time when three 12-year-olds can go bike in the woods unsupervised and teenagers didn’t go “all the way” right away. Anyway, that’s the case in the very small town of Hawkins, Indiana, circa 1983, where nothing ever happens – until young Will Byers (brilliantly personified here by a Muppet) is mysteriously transported to the “upside down,” a parallel alternate dimension.
As in the series, Will’s disappearance troubles laconic local sheriff Jim Hopper (an excellent Shawn Smith), causes Will’s mother Joyce (the wonderful Caroline Huerta) to act even nuttier than usual, and results in adventurous teens Mike, Lucas and Dustin (effectively portrayed by Jeffrey Laughrun, Jamir Brown and Jeremiah Garcia) connecting with a mysterious and powerful girl named Eleven (the big-voiced Harley Seger, equally good as the boy-crazy Nancy.) Can Will be saved? Will the Demagorgon eat everyone in sight? No need to tune in next week.
Luckily, there are plenty of pleasures to be had even if you barely care about – or already know -- the plot. For example, there’s continuous joy in watching Garrett Poladian, a super-lithe dancer and excellent singer, smartly play the shy Jonathan Byers, the arrogant and hair-obsessed Steve Harrington, and Eleven’s evil father, Dr. Brenner.
Meanwhile, Huerta brings down the house with “Crazy,” a hysterical (in every sense of the word) paean to the frenetic acting style of Winona Ryder (who plays Joyce on the series), complete with cameos from her film career.
Best of all there’s the scene-stealing performance of SLee as Nancy’s best friend, the virginal, overweight Barb – yep, she’s really a Mormon -- who ultimately gets the last word in the blisteringly funny “Barb’s Turn.” As its title indicates, this showstopper deliberately references one of the most classic songs in the musical theatre canon, and SLee earns a well-deserved mid-show standing ovation for her delivery!
Even if you’re a big fan of the series, I’m not sure you need to turn your entire world upside down to catch “Stranger Sings.” But anyone who has the time to do so – superfan or not -- should grab their bicycle (or subway, bus, cab) and head to 46th Street for a very enjoyable outing.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Caroline Huerta, Garrett Poladian, SLee, Jean Christian Barry, Jamir Brown, Jeremiah Garcia, Dashiell Gregory, Jeffrey Laughrun, Hannah Clarke Levine, Harley Seger, and Shawn W. Smith.
St. Luke's Theatre
308 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036