Inside Wesleyan’s Stage Adaptation of “Dr. Horrible”

by csmall,

In 2008, Joss Whedon brought Internet media into a new age by self-releasing “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a musical for the technological age. Comprised of three acts totaling 42 minutes, Dr. Horrible was released for free over a period of three days on an official site and hulu.com, before being taken down as the cast and creators waited for the word about their revolutionary experiment to spread.

And spread it did—it was soon the topic of countless news articles praising Whedon’s “invention” as well as fan blogs gushing about how the geeky genius had created television gold, yet again. Thanks to popular demand, “Dr. Horrible” was online again within days, and it became available on iTunes, as well as a special edition DVD, which eventually became the #2 best seller on Amazon.com in Movies & TV and the #1 best seller in Musicals. With a Blu-ray version due out on May 25 and rumors of a sequel in the works, Wesleyan students are offering their own take on the blog in the form of a stage production. Director Cheryl Tan ’11 and Second Stage are bringing “Dr. Horrible” to Whedon’s alma mater this weekend.

Argus: How well does “Dr. Horrible” adapt from the blog to the stage?
Cheryl Tan: I was actually pretty naïve about this pretty huge phenomenon of people staging :Dr. Horrible,D turns out they’re pretty much everywhere. It comes from a film so there are a lot of challenges, a lot of things have to change. I generally don’t believe in adapting things for this reason. I think film is a lot more precise than theatre—lots of quick cuts and the like—so we had to find ways to deal with lack of locations, extras, close-ups and so forth. Hopefully the rabid fans won’t be too angry, we tried to keep everything in the general spirit of the show. Putting it on is pretty interesting though, because you start noticing all these little details in the film that are important but really subtly done.

A: Why did you decide to put on this show?
CT: Frankly it’s my first time directing a play, I used to be in musical theater school so I know how difficult it is to stage one, and I thought that my first directing project should be something easy. I mean, I’m also quite a medium-to-large geek and grew up on “Buffy” and so forth. But mostly I thought it was going to be easy. Thought.
 
A: This show is going up pretty early. How has the cast/crew dealt with the short rehearsal time?
CT: I’m really lucky. I actually managed to get a pretty fantastic cast and crew who, despite my continuous berating, are passionate, creative and hardworking. The show’s short length helped, of course, and my scheduling skills are still pretty terrible, but I still think (hope) that we’ve managed to make it a process of discovery for the cast. The creative team is pretty Wes star-studded, and I suspect I have some of the best techies around.
If we’d had longer, it might be an even stronger show, being able to delve more into the characters and the world, but having such a short period has meant that we had to focus hard and move quickly. I think the result is going to be pretty raw and organic, kind of like the film?
 
A: What’s your favorite song in the show? Why?
CT: I don’t really have one. At the moment I’m pretty into “Slipping,” because it’s the only song that really functions as a sort of developing soliloquy…do I sound like a douchebag? I think I do, but it’s really a lot smarter than you would intuitively think. It’s got some pretty interesting stuff about life. Art! I also really like “Penny’s Song” because it has a lot of unusual contrasts and can sound somewhat sad when I think it’s actually very positive.
 
A: Who’s your favorite character? Why?
CT: I’m not sure. They’re all sort of unexpectedly messed up. I think Penny is the most difficult character to understand because she’s got all these weird conflicting actions. Maybe my favorite is Laura’s Groupie.
 
A: How well does the cast capture the spirit of the original?
CT: I think they’re not trying to capture the original cast in any way really, which I feel is a good thing. I mean, Hammer is still a prick, Billy is still meandering and neurotic, and Penny is still a bleeding-heart type, but the actors have brought their own individual selves to the characters and it’s pretty fascinating and great to watch. The whole production is very individual to us I think and that’s what will hopefully make us stand out. We’ve tried to make it somewhat fresh instead of a shadow-cast type of show, which is really exciting.
 
A: I chose to embarrass myself at the dance call for this show. It was pretty intense. Just how much dancing is in this show anyway?
CT: I think that if I told you that, I’d have to kill you.
 
A: Anything else you’d like to add?
CT: Come watch! Two shows per day! That’s a lot of shows! We don’t know if Joss Whedon will turn up, but I would be really happy if he does. Please try to come to shows that are earlier in the week because there are many out of town reservations for the Saturday shows. Six shows means lots of seats, come and watch it twice!
Oh, and if you guys could, after watching the show, not give away some of the little surprises, that would be really awesome. More reasons to come to the earlier shows! If you haven’t already seen the film, I don’t necessarily recommend watching it first. It will always be more visceral as a first time experience. Tamar is the king, and the band is WICKED.

Dr. Horrible runs on Friday at 7 and 9 p.m. and on Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.

  • Dave Feldman '73 AKA David Harp

    I saw the show on Saturday night, and enjoyed it (although I hadn't seen the original, so had no basis for comparison). I like Joss Whedon's stuff generally, though. For a low-budget, student work without lots of prep time, it was really well-done, IMO. The end was sadder than I would have expected, but the message was a good one (to paraphrase the Rolling Stones): You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you can, but it may then turn out that what you think you want is not what you really want.

    In these days when so many of seem to crave the attainment of riches and fame, it's a good message to mull.

  • Anon

    I just have a question. The article doesn't mention whether Joss gave his approval for this production, did he?

  • Anonymous

    I'm under the impression that he approved. He was also invited to the production...

Media