To enjoy this Fringe offering, you must surrender to the notion that our current surround sound of pop culture has already made spectacles of morbid obesity, drug dependence, gender identity, sexual misconduct, economic collapse and brute backstabbing more gut wrenching than 20 years of Jerry Springer ever did. In this production, no topic is too taboo to touch.
And, if like me, you were the first in your workplace to know that “TomKat” would cease (as a moniker, entity, or marriage) then this musical is for you.
In that spirit, Superhero Celebrity Rehab: The Musical leaves no stone unturned—every reality TV staple, from “The Biggest Loser” to the “Real Housewives”, get its share of hits. Deserved, dare I say?
But, let me come clean with a full disclosure of biases—I jumped to see Superhero Celebrity Rehab: The Musical for its promise not only to comment on what I wholly adore, Pop Culture, but to also parody the aspect I loathe most—Reality TV. Superheroes, however, I love.
While Superhero franchises have distilled 70 years of comic lore into streamlined plots backed by special effects, the real success of the films has been a studio’s ability to remake caricatures into humans with character. Ten years and 5 prequels went into making “The Avengers” a seamless show of action with heart, wit, and social insight by the best of Hollywood, so I applaud the creators of this musical for their stab at a timely piece without the pool of minds and money seen in the movies.
Reality TV, however, has yet to find a formula as promising as the Superhero genre. And this is the downfall of Superhero Celebrity Rehab: The Musical. It errs on the side of feeling more like the latest incarnation of “Celebrity Rehab” than the next Batman installment.
In short, the characters fall shy of my expectations, feeling a bit unrealized and simultaneously overacted at points. I don’t care what happens to them. Kinda like the people on Reality TV. Who, to be fair, aren’t actors. But this cast is. And, unfortunately, for the show, I hold theatre to a higher standard than both trashy TV and summer blockbusters.
Was I amused? Mostly. Was I moved? Eh…
The musical opens with poor, plain, uninteresting Susan Mills kidnapping a TV producer, known for the popular reality show “Man versus Leech,” in order to advocate for her own spotlight. Things go awry when the cocaine-snorting hero Supernova suits up to thwart her evil doing. In the midst of battle (in which the exertion of super-abilities resembles a struggle with constipation) his powers infiltrate her being: alas, Susan morphs into Supernova’s antithesis, the Black Hole. While by now—10 minutes in—I have an inkling of the good vs. evil ending to come, I don’t mind so much. Formulas are formulas because they work—the magic is in how each story ingredient spins together in time.
And the spinning lacks the luster of the shiny get-up of Supernova, who struts like a frat boy unaware the glory of college is gone. His performance is as golden and obnoxious as his alter-ego’s garb, while the supporting Superheroes at times seem to fight too hard for their subplots—mostly told through group therapy scenes. The Scarlet Letter, Fondue, Critter and Nightmare all teeter uneasily between progressing the story as a whole and making it into a series of one-man cabarets (I’m talking mostly to you, Fondue).
Like “The Avengers” (and every Reality Show), fitting in adequate stage time for so many over-the-top characters takes effort, but I wish there was more attempt to imitate the best of superhero franchises than the worst of Jersey Shore.
Yet, as a pop culture junkie, this musical provided me with enough one-liners to keep me satiated for the duration. It sometimes felt like a mesh of strategically edited highs and lows, fuzzily unfurling from A to Z—again like reality TV—but with musical numbers about getting one’s fix in a new way or lines like “this isn’t easy, so leave us the hell alone,” wit reigns.
Despite its faults, the cultural timing couldn’t be better for such a show. With refinement, it could muscle its way into something everyone should see.
Until then, I suggest giving the line, “Now, I get high on yoga mats” the laugh it deserves. Maybe in its next incarnation, the parody in Superhero Celebrity Rehab: The Musical will challenge society to elevate, as well as laugh at, itself. Then, I will be moved. Not just amused.
Superhero Celebrity Rehab: The Musical has 4 performances, ending July 22, 2012 at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St NW Washington, DC
Details and tickets
Kelly rates this a 3 out of a possible 5.