Villains Sex, Drugs and Rockenroll capture a Hopeville citizen in The New Hopeville Comics. Photo by Jacquelyn Terhar.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining rock opera that is a laugh-out-loud good time and has an interesting message.
Hollywood has capitalized on the big box office pull of comic books and graphic novels with movies like “Watchmen,” “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men,” but now with productions like off-Broadway’s The Toxic Avenger and Broadway’s upcoming Spider-Man in the works it seems the great American musical is hopping on board. Riding the front of that train are Nate Weida and Sarah Donnell with their rock opera, The New Hopeville Comics. With an original story, a powerful score and a stellar cast, this is a must see.
Upon entering the theatre one is immediately transported smack dab in the pages of a comic book. A haze blankets the house and giant, chromatic letters spelling “Hopeville” snake their way across the stage. An overgrown, cartoon-like television set, brightly outlined door frames and floating street lamps dot the set. The essence of this comic is brought to life by set designers Steve Royal, Justin Ansley and Grace Baxter. Though Hopeville has a comic book flair, unlike the aforementioned shows it is not derived from an existing graphic novel. In fact, after visiting the show's website, it looks as if this musical has inspired an upcoming comic book.
The story is set in Hopeville, a Pleasantville type town where everything is perfect...it never even rains, thanks to the town’s resident hero Perfect Man (Chris Critelli) who chases away all things bad and unpleasant. Then, when Perfect’s heart is broken, he loses hope and thereby loses his strength, allowing the villains Sex (Terren Wooten Clarke), Rockenroll (John Bennett) and Drugs (Carl Conway Maguire) to kill him and easily overtake Hopeville. For the first time, Hopeville is left unprotected and it begins to rain. Lighting designer David A. Sexton manipulates beautiful diagonal streaks of light to create a comic book rain shower effect.
Weida’s music and lyrics are a driving force that propel this story with sounds gleaned from classical operas, traditional musical theatre, '60s and '70s rock, jazz, contemporary pop artists and even a little calypso. Like Pete Townshend and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Weida creates a diverse musical storytelling not only with lyrics, but with musical phrasing, rhythms and underscoring that could stand alone as a rock opera album. While Hopeville’s sound is very different from Tommy or, say, Jesus Christ Superstar (it’s almost a cross between the two), it’s epic story telling is similar in structure. It’s also similar in that some places the story gets a little muddy but is saved by musical themes that are repeated throughout to create coherency. But hey, if Townshend and Webber can do it, so can Weida. The music is spirited enough and the performances are passionate enough that the holes in the story just don’t matter.
The message in The New Hopeville Comics rings more true than perfect: life isn’t neatly tied in a bow but it does bravely go on. This production has a whole lotta laughter and a whole lotta talent. Though the citizens of Hopeville may be without a hero, they will be with hope again and, damn it, there will be music.
(The New Hopeville Comics plays in the Chernuchin Theatre at the American Theater of Actors, 314 West 54th St., between 8th and 9th Avenues. It runs through March 28th: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. The show is 2 hours with one 10 min intermission. Tickets are $25, $15 for students available at 212-352-3101 or at TheaterMania.com. For more info visit newhopevillecomics.com.)