Every year among the musicals at Hollywood Fringe Festival you will find several productions centered on a TV show or movie that usually has a large fan-base that the creators are surely hoping to tap into. Some of these shows are parodies but “Stranger Things 2: The Musical Tribute” makes it clear they are not one of those on the postcards you will see all over the Fringe venues that reads “All original songs. No jukebox. No parodies.”. What that fails to relate is that the songs are all quite specifically derivative in one way or another of the best songs from the 80s. In this specific case, with this wildly talented cast, that is not a bad thing. You’ll hear songs that sound like ‘Jump’ and ‘Time After Time’ and ‘Footloose’ but all of that just helps to win you over if you are familiar with those masterworks. If you are not – you’ll be taken in by the talent, and there is a lot of it on display.
The book has been adapted from the second season of the series by Conor Hanney and Lee Huff. Angela Todaro directs the cast of seven who take on at least two characters, sometimes three, and everyone does a solid job of making the series come to life. In 85 minutes they cover a lot of territories so you can imagine how fast paced the show is. Right out of the gate, the first song “A Little Bit Strange” reveals the vocal capabilities of this truly engaging cast. You want to live in those harmonies as they ask “Why would you live in a Midwest town When you could live in other places? There are so many better places to live, That is not here.” and state multiple times that it is “uncomfortably cold eight months of the year.” Yes, this show is much funnier than its source material.
As Will, Sylvia Kolb tends to steal the show. Wide-eyed and frail-looking in an oversized shirt, Kolb has the character down to an almost unsettling degree. Watching her struggle and suffer as Will, you feel like you’re re-watching episodes of the show but there’s no sense of Kolb ever being anything but one hundred percent present in those moments, which makes it feel like we are there with her in a way the TV show never could pull off. She also plays Jonathan later on opposite Jacqueline Emerson as Nancy. With the help of a wig and a small costume adjustment, Emerson morphs from Nancy into Eleven. Robert Manion plays Steve, Mike and Mr. Clarke. Callie Ott plays Joyce, Max, and Eight. Zach Zagoria nearly steals the show as Billy and also plays Murray and Dr. Owens. Daniel Bellusci threatens to break your heart as both Dustin and Bob and Tym Brown flips from authority and father figure Hopper to young Lucas with such charming ease, he’ll make you smile with joy.
If you don’t know the show, and even if you do, you might already be grasping one of two things that makes it a challenge for all audiences to enjoy – even with this level of ability – a cast that changes character like this could be hard to follow. Is it wonderful to watch Jacqueline flip from Nancy to Eleven from one scene to the next? Absolutely. Will people be confused? Perhaps. But that doesn’t diminish our appreciation of a song like “Love Knows No Age” where Joyce and Bob [Will’s mother and her new boyfriend], Lucas and Max [one of the main gang of ‘kids’ and the new girl at school], Nancy and Steve [a teenaged couple until Nancy discovers deeper feelings for Jonathan later on] belt out their feelings in a rock ballad that could have been lifted right out of American Top 40 in the 80s.
The monster out of the Upside Down is represented by some jarring and unsettling audio cues and minimal shifts in lighting – this is Fringe and it could be a challenge to create it any other way. This works but since it is so successful, we wonder why it doesn’t make one final appearance to mirror it’s a journey, if you will, in the series. However the series ended, this show ends with the previously mentioned ‘Footloose’-like the song “Move While You Can” that brings the cast vocally together again to treat our ears one last time. No matter what happens in Season 3 of the Netflix show, we can appreciate what’s been created here and maybe look forward to seeing how this creative team adapts future seasons of Stranger Things [no pressure, guys].
Here is a link to the show’s page on the Fringe website:
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