Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twilight: The Musical Is Hilarious And Criticizes Bella Swan — What’s Not To Love?

Earlier this week, we got to attend the staged reading of Twilight: The Musical, a fan-run parody ofStephenie Meyer‘s worldwide phenomenon. The project, which has been several years in the making, doesn’t just poke fun at the Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle, but it also brings in Harry Potter characters for a commentary on popular YA books and what makes a compelling heroine.
Let me start by saying that this is a sharp, funny show populated with talented singers and dancers. WriterAshley Griffin and her collaborators obviously know the series backwards and forwards, as the dialogue and songs especially are peppered with sly puns and references to obscure moments from the books. Yet it strikes the right balance by not alienating newbies… although let’s face it, nearly everyone at the reading must have been a genuine fan.
The musical was a success financially, as well: The one-night performance — plus the after party at Bar West End Grille with DJ Twist overseeing music – managed to raise over $3,000 for the charity Blessings In A Backpack!
We learned that while this musical has been in the works for several years, some of what we were seeing was completely new material thought up in the prior 24 hours of rehearsal. In addition to the eight actors — who winningly endured costume and wig changes to portray three times as many characters — there were five dancers showing samples of future choreography.
Twilight: The Musical blows through all four books in less than two hours, smartly spending the most time on Edward and Bella’s burgeoning romance from Twilight and the cracktastic plot of Breaking Dawn. Not surprisingly, the three leads were snappy and charismatic, yet they could also play the awkwardness of their characters for laughs. It’s exciting to see an actually strong Bella (played by Meghann Fahy, who made her Broadway debut in Next to Normal); Colin Hanlon (Rent, Wicked) and Jared Zirilli (Aida, Rent) upped the kitschiness to mock Edward and Jacob’s snarling feud over Bella.
The songs are strong; I’d say that I basically liked every other song, with some of my favorites being “Dancing Around the Subject” (Bella confronting Edward about being a vampire), “Personal Brand of Heroine” (Edward’s love song), “It’s A Pack Thing” (the hilarious rap from the Quileutes), and “I Imprinted On an Infant” (no explanation necessary).
Some of the musical’s funniest moments were the meta ones, that might get erased in a more complete production: If someone flubbed a line or an effect was delayed, the actors would glance at the audience as if to say “Bear with us,” and it always prompted laughter. The actors were laid-back enough to laugh at themselves too, like when Edward blurted out, “NO! She’s not!” in relation to some line about Bella, and even Hanlon laughed at how dramatic he sounded.
Similarly, there were several moments that obviously came out of the musical’s tight budget, but I wouldn’t want to lose in a larger production, like when an actor comes up behind Hanlon and Fahy with a poster board covered in flowers, to simulate the meadow where Edward and Bella famously declare their love.
It’s difficult to remember all of the funny moments because there were so many inserted so casually into the show. The writers smartly deviate from Stephenie Meyer’s story early on, by replacing evil vampire Victoria (the villain of the first two books) with Harry Potter, Hermione, and Ron.
An unexpected standout was Jenna Leigh Green, who endured sixteen wig changes in Act 1 alone to play snarky Leah, bitter Rosalie, and most importantly, vengeful Hermione. I almost don’t want to see the cast expand in future productions; watching Green and others race on- and off-stage was part of the fun.
We thought that the inclusion of the Harry Potter wizards was meant to pit YA novels against each other, but it was much more about pitting strong female heroines against one another. While Bella hems and haws over whether she’ll get to sleep with Edward, Hermione is bringing together past and present vampires to destroy this pesky weakling. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them update the musical in a few years to replace Hermione with The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen!
This is where the musical got serious, a risky but excellent move to elevate it above simple mockery. After Bella is transformed into a vampire, she encounters Harry in the white void that he inhabits when he sacrifices himself in Deathly Hallows. And suddenly, this tongue-in-cheek musical has a moral as Harry scolds Bella, “You sold your soul for a romance novel.”
We have to remember that this is written by the generation who grew up with the Potter kids and will always value that series over Twilight. Thank God, because that’s the kind of perspective we need for a parody: The ability to poke and mold into something different, while criticizing the original work’s drawbacks.
I definitely recommend that you keep up withTwilight: The Musical and make it out to future readings if you live in New York City. This show about fans deserves more fans of its own.



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