Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Vancouver Fringe Festival
Broadway West and Relephant Theatre
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Blair Gallant
I went to the Vancouver Fringe production of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with low expectations. After all, I’ve been a fan of the music internet production (created by Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion) almost since it came out, and can sing all of the songs by heart. I went (wearing my Captain Hammer t-shirt) expecting a faithful but low-quality fan service. After all, the original was a digital production built around the device of a video blog, and how well could that be translated to the stage?
As it turns out — quite well. I was pleasantly surprised by Relephant Theatre and Broadway West’s production at the Firehall Arts Centre. For one thing, they were clearly fans of the original (if the mere fact that they wree producing this show wasn’t indication enough), and included songs from the DVD special feature Commentary! the musical, and subtle references to Joss Whedon’s cult favourite TV show Firefly, working them seamlessly into the stage production. And as diehard fans of the original, they weren’t about to do any less than their best in creating their adaptation.
I was probably most impressed by the technical side of the show. The stage setup included a projection screen that allowed for easy transition between multiple sets from a city street to a laundromat. It also facilitated the video blog conceit, with the vlogging character Dr. Horrible (Jon Lachlan Stewart) sitting at the side of the stage. The audience was never in much doubt as to where we were.
A scene involving a van chase was translated to stage with grace — and a tiny remote-control van that worked because of the comedic nature of the whole performance. Necessarily fast costume changes were handled well, not drawing away from the action — or even enhancing it.
The music was provided by a two-keyboard-and-percussion pit in the back, which impressed me with it faithful reproductions, and if there was an occasional sloppiness in the playing, it was far preferable to canned tracks.
Other special effects included smoke, lighting and sound that did exactly what it had to do, and a nice bit of stage misdirection at the end to remain as faithful as possible to the feel of the original.
The acting was overall very good: Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer (Shane Snow) were especially on top of their roles — they couldn’t live up to Fillion and NPH, but who can? And they nailed most of the comedic timing so integral to the performances. The role of Penny (Christina Hardie) was, I felt, forced at times, or too over-the-top for what’s supposed to be a quiet, shy character.
The adaptation to the stage was fantastic, including some added lines that actually achieved the same level of comedy as the original script, and humourous references to the fact that this was a stage production of the original.
The direction and choreography, too, were spectacular overall, the whole performance flowing seamlessly. In fact, my only real complaint was the singing. Though all of the actors could certainly sing, the cast seemed to be actors before singers, and — given my previously mentioned attachment to the music — it let me down a bit. A few lyrics were fobbed, and the cast was generally a bit shaky with the harmonies.
Still, the overall experience was a fantastic one. I came away pleasantly surprised at the faithfulness and quality of the reproduction — and with all the songs stuck in my head again.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog plays at the Pick of the Fringe, September 23 and 26.