Every once in a while a musical comes along that captures the spirit of its time flawlessly. The New Hopeville Comics, A New Rock Opera from Commander Squish Productions, is one of these shows. Don’t be misled by the four-color poster featuring the heroic Perfect Man and his gal pal Molly. This is not your typical kid-friendly comic adventure. Owing more to the mature themes of shows like Rent and the macabre sensibilities of Little Shop of Horrors than it does to any of the Sunday funnies or the caped crusaders that ostensibly inspired it (and I should know, I have boxes and boxes of Batman and Justice League taking up space in my closets), The New Hopeville Comics begins as a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek flight through crazy comic land, and ends up landing very much in the world we live in today, with a message so powerful (and delivered so powerfully) it brought tears to this reviewer’s eyes. For a storyline featuring Man of Steel-like Perfect Man and his trio of supervillains with the heavy-handed yet appropriate monikers Sex, Drugs, and Rockenroll, this three-act little super-hero song and dance piece turns out to be thrillingly deep. Featuring bravura acting performances, show-stopping dance numbers (choreographed by Ashley Adamek), and an ensemble that blends so well I think my heart actually skipped a beat several times, New Hopeville Comics is one of those rare pieces that can truly be called a theatrical gem.
Among the many fine performances were Chris Crittelli as the golly-gee-willikers goody-two-shoed Perfect Man, whose song-and-dance delivery of certain lines brought the house to tears of laughter; Aaron Phillips as Felix, the nerdy dare-I-say sidekick who quickly comes into his own after a hilarious sequence of events; and the amazing trio of Terren Wooten Clarke (Sex), Carl Conway Maguire (Drugs), and John Bennett (Rockenroll), who very nearly steal the show with their antics. There were more than a few Forbidden Broadway-like moments, such as Perfect Man trying to convince his gal Molly (played by Sarah Hayes Donnell) to stay with him while performing Chorus Line choreography, or when Felix leads the revolution in the second act marching in step and singing “One Day More”, but the villainous trio of Sex, Drugs, & Rockenroll manage to top everything with a vibrant number ending in a calypso (“a Calypso!?!”). Later, the villains lead the entire town’s populace in a raucous revelry that is so wrong it can only be right. Christine Dwyer as April, Molly’s later love interest, has a beautiful and powerful voice, which she gets to show off towards the end.
The production values were fantastic, with bright, colorful costumes (designed by Denise Schumaker) that stood out against the darker but still colorful set (designed by Steve Royal). The band (under the direction of Tim Matson) was rocking, and delivered Nate Weida’s score with aplomb. In fact, the only major criticism I have with the show is that the leads were not supported with microphones, so they were sometimes lost in the music and vocal power of the ensemble.
Quite possibly the best thing about The New Hopeville Comics is the message. What begins as a sinister refrain delivered by the villains early on in the show, “Rain On!” becomes a powerful message of hope. With a nod to everything from Rent’s “No Day But Today” to Eric Draven’s “It Can’t Rain All The Time” (from the film The Crow), from 110 Degrees in the Shade to Broadway's Hair, “Rain On!” empowers the disenfranchised to realize that times are hard right now for everyone, and that we need to do the best we can with our circumstances right now. For that we don’t need a super-hero, we just need ourselves. And maybe a little help from our friends.
Speaking of help from our friends, all proceeds from this production will be donated to Fountain House and the SJM Pediatric Transplant Foundation.