Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: It's Good to Be the Pope!

The colorful comic book world has found its way on stage before. From a little orphan girl to a web-slinging spider dude, there's something about a world of color and pop that translates to musical theater. In Pope! An Epic Musical, a fictitious colorful world is concocted where a boy destined to be Pope sets out on an action adventure after the evil archbishop goes on a reign of terror. Written by Justin Moran and Christopher Pappas, Pope! An Epic Musical is campy Papal comedy.
Pope! An Epic Musical follows Pope, a young man destined to be God’s earthy voice box but when a jealous and bitter Archbishop throws Pope right in the center of a sex scandal, Pope is excommunicated and sent into the world alone. To regain his position and right the world, Pope sets out on an epic journey. With a backdrop of vibrant characters and pop culture references that are spot on, Pope! An Epic Musical leaves you wanting more. Much more. The book by Justin Moran is quite strong. He establishes larger-than-life characters that don’t try to be anything more than they are. He layers in the pop culture in a way that’s not flashy. If you get it, you laugh. If you don’t, you move right along. From “Game of Thrones” to Starbucks, nothing is off limits. The objectives the characters have are simple and attainable, no matter how farfetched the situation may be. The only thing Moran should explore is the timeline of evens. The characters make reference to events occurring 28 years earlier. But with this young ensemble, it doesn’t quite check out. The music by Christopher Pappas is poppy goodness. There are so many fun, uptempo numbers that keep your feet tapping and smiles large. With an abundance of show-stopping production numbers, there's no doubt that the spectacle can get even grander.
photo by Jeremy Daniel
Matching the big personalities was a lively and energetic company. As the titular Pope, Sam Bolen was fabulous. Bolen not only has strong comedic chops, he has a stellar pop voice that matches the character wonderfully. He’s the perfect embodiment of this super Pope. Ken Land as the archenemies Archbishop portrayed the perfect evil, maniacal, power-thirty villain. As Duncan, the scene-stealing, fun-loving henchman to Archbishop, Jason Edward Cook gave a performance to remember. He’s the full package. Cook created a brilliant character, voice and all, and made the audience fall in love. If ever there was someone who deserves a spin-off musical, it’s Cook’s Duncan.
The vision that director Peter Flynn brought worked to lift this musical from page to stage with ease. Flynn allowed the jokes to land, the sincerity to shine, and the fun to be nonstop. Flynn allowed the campy nature of the piece to resonate in all aspects of the show. The choreography by Wendy Seyb was energetic and a thrilling taste of what it could be in a large-scale production. The overall design of the show was cohesive. The costumes by Vanessa Leuck were glorious. Leuck used color to her advantage yet still honored the garments she was prescribed. It was nice to see that each bishop had their own personality through costume. The lighting by Grant Yeager was colorful and vibrant. If any design aspect could have been altered, it was the scenic design. Rob Bissinger needed to translate the two-dimensional comic book world that inspired the musical into a three-dimensional pop of wow. The church inspired drop was flat and boring compared to the personality of the show.
When a musical knows exactly what it wants to be and has already eliminated all of the fluff, it’s quite a joy to watch. Pope! An Epic Musical is heavenly fun. Will it follow in the footsteps of that musical about those Mormon boys? It’s hard to say, but you should expect Pope to get another shot.