Flash/Supergirl episode acknowledges CW superhero shows stacked with musical theatre talent

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I have two confessions.  First, I love musicals.  Well, that’s hardly a confession, but I felt it worth mentioning.  Second, I love superhero shows on the CW.  Frankly, I don’t know which fact is more likely to get me beat up behind the bleachers, but there you go.

The CW hooked me first with The Flash.  Admittedly, I started watching The Flash because it starred Grant Gustin as Barry Allen who I enjoyed on Glee as the slimey Sebastian SmytheI was quite surprised to find Gustin was now in the superhero business.  To my further delight, Jesse L. Martin featured as Grant’s adoptive father, Joe West.  Yes, THE Jesse L. Martin from the original cast of RENT.  Be still, my high school heart.

From there, it spiraled all too quickly.  Upon a crossover episode with CW’s Arrow, I discovered John Barrowman (from Miss Saigon on the West End and Sunset Boulevard on Broadway) as Malcolm Merlyn.  An early episode of The Flash featured the Les Misérables revival’s Andy Mientus as the Pied Piper.  Only after some sleuthing did I discover that Carlos Valdes, who plays Flash’s quirky tech friend Cisco, was not only a University of Michigan grad but also a replacement in the Tony-nominated Once. And then once fellow Glee alumna Melissa Benoist took up the cape as Supergirl with Newsies’ Jeremy Jordan as her sidekick Winn Schott, well, there was no going back.  The CW had basically populated the entire DC universe with musical theatre talent.  While we’re being honest, I’m surprised it took the network this long to make a musical episode.  But we finally have it, musical-theatre-superhero-crossover-nerds.  We finally have it.

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In the crossover episode, Supergirl and Flash trade their cape and cowl for evening wear more suitable for song and dance.

At the end of Supergirl Ep. 216 “Star-Crossed,” a trans-dimensional trickster called Music Meister shows up (Music Meister being the DC equivalent to Star Trek: Next Generation’s Q…just to layer on another level of nerd).  Who better to play the role of Music Meister than Darren Criss, the poster boy for multi-platform contemporary musical theatre performers/creators?  With television credits (Glee), Broadway credits (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), YouTube credits (A Very Potter Musical), and production credits (Elsie Fest), Criss is what every Golden Age-crooning, time-stepping superhero/villian aspires to be.  But Music Meister’s first appearance is just a tease for the subsequent The Flash Ep. 317 “Duet,” which is the official musical episode.

When Music Meister traps Flash and Supergirl in the musical world of their own minds’ creation, our superheroes can sing and dance freely—as superheroes are meant to do.  In their own “DC meets Wizard of Oz” way (“and you were there, and you were there”), all the aforementioned characters from across the CW are able to join in the rousing opening number, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”  It’s a charming song and dance, but it mostly serves as a vehicle for Barrowman, Criss, and Jordan to attempt to out-riff each other.

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Darren Criss as Music Meister and Jeremy Jordan as Winn Schott relish the opening number “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

Throughout the episode, our heroes poke fun at the simplicity of musical plots, demure from singing and dancing themselves until “Gosh, okay!” they just can’t help it, and sprinkle grin-worthy musical references to even the most casual of musical theatre fans.  Aside from “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” Benoist covers “Moon River” and Martin, Barrowman, and Victor Garber (his character’s a whole other story I haven’t even mentioned…) sing a trio version of “More I Cannot Wish You.”  We’re treated to a cheeky original song called “Super Friends” by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom whose song title pokes fun (there certainly is a lot of poking going on) at the DC cartoon series from the 70s and 80s.  It’s a superhero take on “Friendship” with plenty of schtick.  The last song of the show is also an original called “Running Home to You” by the it-boys Benj Pasek & Justin Paul.  Clearly this song-writing team wasn’t busy writing their hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, writing their hit movie musical La La Land, or finishing their soon-to-be hit movie The Greatest Showman, so they decided to dabble a bit in TV.  “Running Home to You” is sweet and tuneful, and it will surely make its way into the audition book of any young musical-theatre-superhero-crossover-nerd worth his salt.

While musical episodes on typically non-singing television shows draw legions of fans for the novelty factor, musical episodes reveal a glimmer of the stage training that most television actors bring.  Sure, now they might wear knee-high red leather boots instead of character shoes, but actors like Benoist and Gustin as Supergirl and Flash serve as examples of the kind of training our favorite actors on television bring with them.  At one point, they took tap lessons, sang in the chorus of their high school production of Annie, or memorized all the words to “La Vie Bohème” for a college showcase—just like us.  Think about that.  We could all be superheroes.

Check out musical numbers from the crossover episode on BroadwayWorld.com.

 

And check out behind-the-scenes footage and interviews on DC All Access.

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Cygnet introduces San Diego to ‘Dogfight’

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Dogfight is a Vietnam-era story about a trio of Marines on the eve of their deployment.  Sorta kinda like On the Town but with more, umm…malice, the three take part in an elaborate game whereby they find the ugliest girl they can and bring her to a party for judging.  Victory goes to the most unattractive girl, and the Marine who brought her wins the pot.  This plan goes topsy-turvy when our hero, Eddie Birdlace finds he is kinda sorta falling for the girl he brought, Rose Fenny, and begins to question the whole ritual.  After a jam-packed evening of events, the two emerge changed…sorta kinda.

Charles Evans, Jr., Ben Gibson, Eric Von Metzke, Scott Nickley, Alex Hoeffler, Patrick Osteen and Bryan Charles Feldman plan their big night on the eve of their deployment.  (Ken Jacques)

Charles Evans, Jr., Ben Gibson, Eric Von Metzke, Scott Nickley, Alex Hoeffler, Patrick Osteen and Bryan Charles Feldman plan their big night on the eve of their deployment. (Ken Jacques)

Dogfight is a bittersweet story, and this dichotomous description proves just as apt for the current production playing at Cygnet Theatre as it does for the content of the story itself.  Artistic Director Sean Murray directs a cast that is sometimes wonderful and sometimes understaged in a musical story that is sometimes wonderful and sometimes understated.  It’s both bitter and sweet, but rarely at the same time.

First of all, a dichotomy runs through the show’s very structure.  Act I takes the audience on a terrific ride of musical sequences.  It naturally paces itself, because so much of it is scored.  Act II, on the other hand, introduces a number of scenes that suddenly slows down the action.  The difference in pace between the two acts is palpable. It languishes mostly from too much sitting—restaurant, tattoo parlor, and bridge scenes, for example—as well as a self-indulgent tendency of many of the actors to deliver lines a little too profoundly, touch noses a little too broodingly, and court a little too tentatively.

Individual performances also fall into this “bittersweet” dichotomy.  Caitie Grady sings the role of Rose beautifully; she has the best musical material in the show.  “Nothing Short of Wonderful” and “Pretty Funny” are terrific.  Some of Rose’s one-liners are real zingers, and Grady fires them against the Marines with precision.  But there’s an inherent problem in casting this leading lady.  Rose needs to be believably unattractive enough to be considered a contender for the Dogfight, but the role would be unsuited for a character actor.  Or would it?  There’s an unfortunate question that can pop up in this situation, one that probably came up at the casting table and one that certainly came up over post-show drinks:  “Is Rose too pretty?”  Back-handed compliments aside, Grady gives a fine performance.

Our leading man poses another problem that is—again—partly the show’s fault.  Patrick Osteen brings everything that an audience could want in its hero, Eddie Birdlace.  Youthful exuberance:  check.  Wailin’ vocals:  check.  Smoldering good looks:  check.  Unfortunately, Eddie Birdlace is a jerk.  He’s a conflicted jerk, but a jerk.  Even though the audience watches him (sorta kinda) grapple with the morality of this terrible contest, by the end of Act I, Rose gives him a tongue-lashing we’re grateful to watch him receive.  In a strange way, things wrap up rather tidily at the end of Act I.  The only reason we care about Eddie enough to come back and see more is because Act II is printed in the program and because we’ve all seen a musical before and know this is not how musicals usually end.

Patrick Osteen and Caitie Grady find common ground on the Golden Gate Bridge.  (Ken Jacques)

Patrick Osteen and Caitie Grady find common ground on the Golden Gate Bridge. (Ken Jacques)

In the way of supporting roles, Sarah Errington shines as Marcy.  Errington gets the title song, and her belting rendition satisfies lovers of contemporary musical theatre.  Alex Hoeffler and Scott Nickley play fellow marines Boland—the hardened, street-wise one—and Bernstein—the naive, fresh-faced one—respectively.  They’re playing to archetypes here with varying success.  Hoeffler’s detached Boland plays more like a wooden soldier, while Nickley’s frantic Bernstein is more endearing.  Rounding out the cast is a variety of Cygnet veterans and newcomers.

Winner of the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical in 2013, Dogfight also received nominations for Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards.  Productions of Dogfight are going up all over the West Coast and the Midwest including a slew of universities.  This spring brought first productions to Sydney and Amsterdam.  Composer/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul—like their show—are enjoying some popularity at the moment.  Their new show Dear Evan Hansen is running now at Arena Stage.

(Photo courtesy of PasekandPaul.com)

Collaborations of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul include ‘Edges,’ ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ and the brand spankin’ new ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’ (Photo courtesy of PasekandPaul.com)

Musical Director Terry O’Donnell conducts a fine chamber orchestra; both solo and ensemble vocals are quite nice throughout.  David Brannen choreographed the macho-Marine movement sequences.  Sean Fanning’s set is outstanding.

Cygnet’s production runs through August 23 at Old Town Theatre.  Feminists should probably avoid Dogfight; then again, feminists looking for some fresh meat would find a feast here.

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