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Theatre Clack? – Dr. Horrible LIVE!

After conquering the internet, and DVD, 'Dr. Horrible' is finally starting to find its place on the stage. This weekend I was lucky enough to attend opening night of the Seattle production, and it was outstanding.

OK, this is not going to be a regular column. Although, I do see more than enough shows to do it…  Sadly, the commute is just too long for most of you to take advantage of Seattle’s wonderful theatre scene. That being said, we thought that the new production of Dr. Horrible going on at my most favorite little theatre — The Balagan — was well worth a mention. Certainly, there are more than a few Horrible fans among the many and varied CC readers.

Friday night I was lucky enough to attend the opening night performance of Dr. Horrible, and I was very curious to see how things would shake out. There is a certain crowd that goes to live theatre. And there is a certain crowd that worships at the altar of Whedon. Those two groups are not mutually exclusive, but they are two very different groups. As I made my way to the bar, the mix of the two was evident. While a typical Whedon discussion was going on behind me, down at the end of the bar talk had turned to the recently closed Shakespeare in the park series. Neat!

And really, I think that’s the best bit of The Balagan choosing to do this show. The local theatres can always use more butts in the seats, and this is a great way to expose a few more people that maybe hadn’t thought of the theatre as a prime entertainment option. Opening weekend was a complete sellout, and with any luck, some of those people will be back for something else. If you don’t have your local theatres at the top of your list, I would also urge you to take a look. There might be something amazing going on right in your back yard.

Anyway… on to the show. I’m not exactly sure how one would qualify this production. It’s not so much a recreation of the Dr. Horrible series as it is an adaptation of it. The various challenges of the theatre space present a host of issues to be dealt with. In tackling those challenges, director Eric Ankrim, and co-director M. Elizabeth Eller have created something new.

The story and the spirit of the Dr. Horrible we all know and love is still there, and the show hits on all the familiar beats. The hammer is still is his penis, after all. The spaces between those beats though, are wonderfully new. There are no hard cuts here, so instead we get a dance number that ends with a scene change, or a hilarious quick change behind a screen where we see two silhouettes flying through a costume change. It all gives the show an energy that you’re just never going to find coming through a computer screen.

Along with the changes that were required by the space, you’ll also find some that were possible because this is a new production. A number of songs from Commentary! The Musical also made their way into the show, including “Ten Dollar Solo”, “Moist”, “All About Me”,  “Nobody’s Asian In The Movies”, and “Steve’s Song”. They are more or less intact, with some witty additions to make it fit with the local theatre scene. It’s really quite remarkable how smoothly they have all been inserted. The real treat though, is getting to see all of those background characters come to the front and shine. Moist, for example,  not only gets a full musical number, he gets a dance break.

Of course, much of the credit for that goes to the cast, which is full of local musical theatre talent. The supporting cast of Brian Lange, Diana Huey, Christine Nelson, Ryan McCabe, Bill Williams, Ashley Flannegan, and Butch Stevenson are all outstanding and spend the majority of the night threatening to steal the show from the leads. Fortunately, the leads are all very good as well.

It’s a tough gig to step into any of those three roles, because I think the original was about as perfectly cast as you could get. Harris and Fillion, in particular, really put a stamp on the Dr. and the Captain. While I don’t think you can ever really improve on the original, I can say that there’s nothing I would change about the three leads here. Eric Ankrim, pulling double duty, is great as Billy, managing to keep the feeling of the original without seeming like a NPH imitation. Jake Groshong’s Captain falls along similar lines. He’s got great comedic timing, and the unwavering confidence that the Captain requires.

Then there is Annie Jantzer as Penny, who is the star of the show for me. She does have a beautiful singing voice, but what really clinched it was the reprise of  “On The Rise” that Ankrim and musical director Kim Dare (After this, Kim is totally doing Evil Dead The Musical at ArtsWest!) added to Penny’s final scene. It is a very moving final moment between Penny and Billy, and the one spot in the show that I would say stands head and shoulders above the original.

So, in conclusion, if you are in the greater Seattle area, get yourself down to The Balagan and see this show. And if you can’t make the trek to the jet city, hit up Google and find out what’s going on at the theatres in your town.

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