Few of life’s pleasures rival a night at the theater, all the more when you are privileged to attend the closing night of the world premiere engagement of a show that everyone in attendance — cast, crew, and audience alike — have come to realize was a smash hit.
Such was the case last week when I had the privilege of donning black tie and opera cape for the final night of “How To Be A Superhero In Five Easy Lessons” on a gorgeously-appointed stage cleverly decorated in the manner of a fifth-grade gymnasium.
Where to begin? I arrived considerably before curtain, as I enjoy the buzz of excitement from the ticket-buying public, and this audience delivered splendidly. A full 45 minutes before showtime, the theater was near capacity, with families chatting animatedly about their high hopes for the programme. Such a delight to see even the tiny children perusing the Playbill, munching snacks, and greeting fellow season ticketholders with the easy familiarity of regulars long-accustomed to the faces of their fellow stage-musical enthusiasts.
A hush fell on the pavilion as the lights dimmed, but the energy in the air shone with the light of a hundred cellphone cameras as the orchestra began the overture. The audience was lost in the music until the lights came up. What followed was 70 minutes of purest magic.
The first number, the traditional droll complaint of children that “Nothing Ever Happens Here in Our Little Town” was a subtle counterpoint to Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town, alerting the audience to the possibility of subverted expectations throughout the evening. The exposition deftly filled us in on the backstory — “My brother, the boy genius who spends all his time out in our garage performing experiments, gets picked on a lot” — and called to mind the classical style of the Greek Chorus. Our secondary villain, a schoolyard bully who is the tormentor of our protagonists, is introduced. (I resisted the urge to boo, though being moved to such audience participation is a supreme compliment to the playwright.)
The intricate plot shifts into high gear with the double-whammy of a laboratory accident and the introduction of our primary villain — “Big Bad” in the current parlance — an alien with aspirations not unlike those of Lady MacBeth or Marvel’s Thanos. The laboratory accident creates a substance that appears to give our hero and his sibling super powers, whereupon an invitation arrives to attend the Superhero International Training Academy, the Hogwarts of heroism. As their parents are away, they depart posthaste.
We then spend quite a bit of time contrasting the plotting of the villainous alien with the exuberant education of our heroes. The highlight of this sequence was perhaps the finest special effect I have ever seen on stage. The illusion of flight was so dazzlingly realistic, I confess that I am not certain even now as to how it was accomplished. It was so good the audience was moved to applause mid-effect; no small accomplishment, given the crowd’s devoted commitment to traditional rules of decorum. The Brechtian shattering of the fourth wall via our heroes’ bold choice of waving to the audience mid-flight was both heartwarming and deliriously funny.
As one expects with light musical comedy, all is resolved with finality and without violence. The villainous alien is remanded to the authorities, the secondary villain is remonstrated and mildly redeemed, and yet the show continues to surprise even to the final curtain. I won’t reveal the big twist, of course, but suffice to say you will not leave your seat until it is time to rise to your feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.