Have you had one of those late evenings? The type where you are sitting around with close family members or friends, and you just start to look at a movie, or a cultural phenomenon through a twisted lens and by the end everyone is laughing at the ridiculousness of it? Those nights that you remember with fondness because you were in the mood for silliness? Nope? Just me? Well, then you should see Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical to know what it is like to goof around with your crew about a favorite intellectual property. It won’t win any Tony awards, but it will entertain fans of the original series.
This is especially true if parody and satire strike at the heart of your sense of humor. I find that when done well, such smirking, snarky, mockery allows me to enjoy some of my favorite shows even more. The best parodies always seem to come from those who love and respect what they are lampooning. Think of examples such as “Hot Shots” or “Top Gun,” “So, I Married An Axe Murderer” for rom-coms, and the best of all: “Galaxy Quest” for Star Trek Fans (many fan lists include it as one of their top three “Star Trek Movies”). You get the idea.
When the opportunity came to review “Stranger Sings,” I traveled into the city with high expectations for a show that could take any number of approaches at Netflix’s sacred cow. We headed over to midtown Manhattan to Playhouse 46 at St. Luke’s. This intimate theatre seats about 170 in a ring around the stage. The whole place was decked out in Christmas lights and 80’s memorabilia. The cast played off the audience responses, so participate and cheer! The actors engaged audience members throughout the performance whenever there were comments or things went sideways. For example, in this show there were two wig malfunctions and the characters took advantage of the moments–they just switched wigs and played it off like Lucas’ character should have the blond wig. This improv style creates a lot of great moments and the cast was good at it. Occasionally the venue causes you to miss some of the action because the actors need to play to a 360 degree audience. There is not a bad seat in the house.
This buoyant show starts with synth chords and goes right into poking fun at nearly everything about the series (including the audience and those of us who love it) in a good-natured fashion. It largely centers around season 1 and 2 of the show, and in tone is a bit lighter than latter seasons. The tunes are fairly straightforward, exactly what one would expect from this type of performance. The quality of the dancing and acting was so much better than high school and college drama fare, but somewhat inconsistent. Many songs are really, really cheesy–yet it’s pretty good cheese. It also references to many of the shows the Netflix series used to tap into our collective nostalgia love. They played many great 80’s songs for us to sing along to before, after, and during the show (who does not want to see a Demigorgon enter the stage to “Thriller?”) and other musicals a few blocks away on Broadway.
Barb still gets much of the attention with a bit of a surprise ending in this small cast comedy, yet a large part of the fun comes from the actors’ and writers’ take on the different characters. The results are a bit mixed as some of the humor and exposition comes across as trying a bit too hard, yet other parts are spot on. Both Nancy’s boyfriends are played by the same actor (yep, you get it). Will is a puppet (un huh). The puppeteer also plays his mother (a bit on the nose). She does an amazing job as both characters. Joyce (or Winona Rider?) also gets to re-live her meta-life in a nightmare sequence that seems to scroll through the photos of her IMDB page. Nancy was spot on. Dustin captured his character so well. More could be said about the fast costume changes and hard working cast. They definitely earn their pay each night with the high energy of the show and you can tell they are tired at the end.
Feel free to come dressed up as your favorite characters or wear your hellfire club t-shirts when you join this party. At the end of the show you can dance with the cast for a social parting gift. If your are comfortable with all of the language and sexual content on the Netflix series, you will likely be comfortable with this off-broadway parody.
Just like the end of the series (at least this iteration), the “Stranger Sings” final show date has been announced. Get your tickets soon for a lighthearted evening if you love the show, love the 80’s, and want a laugh.
Grab your tickets to see Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical now. It plays at Playhouse 46 in New York City until March 5th. You won’t want to miss it!
*we were invited to facilitate a feature, all opinions are our own*