“The hammer…is my penis.” These immortal words (and no, they’re not less dumbfounding and hilarious in context) nicely capture the spirit of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” Joss Whedon ’87 made-for-the-internet movie musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day. In all of its incarnations, “Dr. Horrible,” as it’s known, is a silly, fun show that sends up traditional superhero/villain conventions. Second Stage’s adaptation of the movie, directed by Cheryl Tan ’11, played last weekend to large and enraptured crowds in the ’92 Theater.
There can be no doubt that the show was a truly awesome spectacle. All of the performers were competent, their performances were enjoyable, and each lead had his or her own particular moment to shine. Zachary Rebich ’11 played the eponymous doctor, a down-on-his-luck super-villain trying to join the Evil League of Evil and win the affections of his dream girl, Penny (Michaela Swee ’12) while fending off his nemesis, “Captain Hammer, corporate tool,” (Todd Rosenthal ’10). Rebich had some great moments, conveying the original character’s pathetic, driven, and just very slightly actually-loopy-so-you’d-better-watch-out-he-has-a-spork qualities. Rosenthal brought all the hair-tossing bravado and self-assured arrogance to the role one could wish for (it being a musical, I should probably mention that both were excellent singers, as well.) Swee truly stole the show, though, with a powerful voice and a strong stage presence that nonetheless remained true to the unobtrusiveness of Penny’s character.
One of the show’s greatest challenges was competition with the movie itself, which most of the audience had probably seen. Here I was struck by a strange paradox: I felt that most of the show was entirely original, but the rest entirely derivative. Swee and Rebich certainly brought some nicely original touches to their characters, making Penny more assertive and Dr. Horrible more genuinely crazy, particularly in later scenes. Chelsea Goldsmith ’13 also gave a strong performance in the supporting role of Moist, creating a buddy for the doctor who was more relaxed and down-to-earth than the original character. But the costumers, with a few exceptions, seemed to be trying to emulate the original as precisely as possible, and there were moments of action that seemed copied gesture-for-gesture from the original.
However, the cast and crew of “Dr. Horrible” did have a few surprises in store for even the most devout fans of the original movie. The inclusion of the song “Nobody Wants to Be Moist,” which was on the DVD release of the original, was a fun addition, particularly when it ended with the infamous Mytheos Holt ’10 rickrolling the hapless Moist. (Holt, in a moment of amusing but unsubtle casting, also briefly portrayed Bad Horse, leader of the Evil League of Evil.) Also, in one pivotal scene involving a van, the impossibility of having a van onstage forced the team to use an actor (Peter Hull ’10), who performed with all the gusto (and occasional violence) that such a role demands. It was actually one of the best performances in the show, funny and—no doubt about it—truly original.
In all, the show translated better from the screen to the stage than I would have expected; the live music, directed by Donovan Arthen ’11 and Shirley Wu ’12, was impeccable, and despite a few microphone difficulties the show was pulled off with excellent technical finesse. The choreography, by Jermaine Lewis ’09, was a fascinating addition to the show and involved the entire ensemble in numbers that had previously been solos, which transformed the show.
This transformation is probably a good thing: after all, transformation is what the show is about. Watching the protagonist change from mild-mannered anarchist Billy who has a crush on Penny to the grim character who rejects his feelings by singing, “Now the nightmare’s real…./Now Dr. Horrible is here/To make you quake in fear…/To make the whole world kneel./And I won’t feel/A thing,” is a funny, but ultimately disturbing process. On the one hand, he gets into the Evil League of Evil. And no one named Dr. Horrible can really call himself a tragic figure. But boy, that guy carrying the corpse of the girl he loved sure comes close.