Many distinguished Ph.D.s come to the University to speak on their areas of expertise. But this weekend, University students have the opportunity to hear from a new kind of scholar: an antihero who boasts a “Ph.D. in horribleness.” Thanks to the student-run theater group Basement Arts, the Internet phenomenon “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” is being brought to the University stage.
“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”
Tonight at 7 & 11 p.m., Saturday at 4 & 7 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center
Joss Whedon, the brains behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” created this Web original in the midst of the 2008 writer’s strike. In that lean time for TV, Whedon, his brothers Jed and Zack and Jed’s wife, actress Maurissa Tancharoen, helped fill the void by presenting this musical for a new age. A postmodern tale of superheroes and super villains, love triangles and new media, “Dr. Horrible” has become a cult sensation. Originally presented for free in serial format to a stampede of Internet fanatics, the musical was a favorite of critics. To the delight of its cult following, there is currently a sequel in the works.
Starring Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”), the miniseries follows the struggles of the surprisingly likeable, aspiring evil mastermind Dr. Horrible on his failing attempts at world domination. It’s a twist on the superhero cliché, as viewers find themselves rooting for the villain to defeat the celebrated hero-slash-bully Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, “Castle”) and win the heart of his laundromat crush, Penny (Felicia Day, YouTube’s “The Guild”).
“It’s a great story which is sort of making super villains and superheroes very much real,” said director Corey Lubowich, School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior. “But it’s not really so much about being superheroes as it is about people. It’s about this guy who has feelings for this girl and how he struggles through what he really wants. And that’s the story I really fell in love with.”
Unlike other stage adaptations of “Dr. Horrible,” Basement Arts’s production sticks to the script and does not add a musical number for Dr. Horrible’s soggy sidekick Moist. But because it cannot really replicate the rapid camera cuts of the film medium, some changes are necessary.
“We want the spirit of what we loved about the video and the film and its story, but we’re not really trying to reproduce the video on stage,” Lubowich said. “We’re trying to take the story and bring it to life in a completely different medium.”
To ease the transition from Web-only content to the stage, Basement Arts’s adaptation makes use of projections and comic book motifs. The quick shifts and multiple locations of the film medium are replaced by series of images projected on screens like comic book pages, giving a stylized feel to the setting. The beefy and cheesy superhero Captain Hammer won’t be singing and flexing his muscles on the top of a moving van like in the film, but the creative theater team will be using technical tricks to create the same sensation.
“It really has had to be its own beast,” said School of Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Kris Reilly, who plays Dr. Horrible. “If we tried to copy what they put on the Internet, we would never come quite close to the amazing nuance and brilliance of what they accomplished on film. And it wouldn’t really have a life of its own.”
While the production keeps the iconic parts of “Dr. Horrible” that fans know and love, Lubowich stresses that it will not be some “sad imitation.” The characters will still be there, but maybe in some different outfits. And he encouraged the actors to create their own believable and unique characters instead of impersonating the originals.
“I’m not Neil Patrick Harris,” Reilly stressed. “The angle that I bring to the character really has to be based on my own life and my own understanding of human beings. That’s the only way he can really be real and what I hope will be an engaging character for the audience to watch go through these things.”
The cultural products of Joss Whedon seem to have this unique tendency to inspire rabid devotion and fanaticism. It’s the kind of fanaticism that might not be easily sated by a new version; however, the team behind the Basement Arts production stresses its devotion to the original.
“We all love it, so we’re here to tell the story as best we can,” Lubowich said. “I think the fans are going to really enjoy seeing the story brought to life in a different way, while still having the familiar elements we all really love.”