By Karen Topham; photo by Evan Hanover
“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” began as a web-only creation from Joss Whedon back when he was more known for being fun and inventive (for shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”) than for being abusive toward his casts. The “Blog” came about as the result of a 2008 Hollywood writer’s strike that left Whedon without a creative outlet. He chose to spend his time collaborating with his brothers Zack and Jed and actress/writer Maurissa Tancharoen on a humorous web serial presented in three fifteen-minute “Acts” with Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, and Nathan Fillion.
Told from the point of view of a long underachieving wannabe villain, the Blog tells the story of his disastrous attraction for a woman he meets in a laundromat and his struggle to join the Evil League of Evil, run by “the thoroughbred of sin,” Bad Horse. It’s inventive, silly, and funny stuff, told partly through a soundtrack that is so catchy that, at least in my house, it quickly replaced Rent as my kids’ go-to sing-along.
But then you probably know most of this if you are interested in attending Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Live On Stage, which Black Button Eyes bills as “an authorized fan production to benefit Season of Concern.” Directed with flair by Ed Rutherford and featuring a talented cast led by BBE regular Kevin Webb as the titular doctor, this is such a solid, fun, and faithful version of the original series that I would almost call it flawless…were it not for the fact that, for some reason, Rutherford has opted to remain true to the web musical’s three-act structure, which results in two ten-minute intermissions in a show that, without them, would take less than an hour. (More on this later.)
On a simple set featuring excellent video and projection work (by G. “Max” Maxin IV), Rutherford’s cast (working with creatively silly choreography by Derek Van Barham), gives us a clever and enjoyable interpretation of Whedon’s vision. Webb is beyond excellent here. His facial expressions alone would make the show worth seeing as he fawns after Penny (Stephanie Fongheiser, perfectly cast as a sweet, caring do-gooder) and tries to avoid a walloping by local superhero (and decidedly not woke asshat) Captain Hammer (Tommy Thurston), who somehow—despite saying the most deplorable things about the homeless, women, and even the audience at a mayoral dedication of a statue of himself—wins citizens’ hearts and minds including, to Dr. Horrible’s shock and chagrin, that of Penny.
All of the actors are wonderful here. Joshua Servantez plays a sidekick called “Moist” who is constantly dripping sweat all over things. (Yep, that’s about as gross as it sounds.) An ensemble consisting of North Homewood (full disclosure: he’s my son), Caitlin Jackson, Josh Kemper, Peter Ruger, and Maiko Terazawa takes on multiple roles throughout the show, the highlight being the Bad Horse messengers, five outlandishly mustachioed Old West types who deliver singing-telegram-like messages to Dr. Horrible from Bad Horse and the League. Music Director Micky York has everyone in top voice, and all of this is a joy to listen to as well as see. The songs, which vary from funny to deadly serious, are brilliantly written and memorable. (Anyone who recalls the musical episode of “Buffy” will not find this at all surprising.)
None of this would be the same without Webb, who shows us multiple sides to his bad guy character. From ridiculous attempts at a “bwahaha” villainous laugh to comically wimpy efforts to make light conversation with Penny to trying desperately to get a remote-controlled van (which is partly prop and partly ultra-silly projection with Homewood having goofy fun as the driver), Webb takes the show on his shoulders and makes us care for Dr. Horrible, no matter how despicable his actions and desires may be.
But back to those intermissions. Seriously, they were not only annoyingly unnecessary, but in this era when more and more shows, even long ones—I recently saw a “one-act” show that was an hour and forty minutes long—are being presented sans interruption in a completely understandable reaction to the pandemic that has many people still wary of going back to the theatre, they seem especially problematic. Sure, everyone in the building is vaccinated—cards are checked at the door—but why on earth would you want to take chances you don’t need to take? The only set-change items between acts are a few chairs being set up and some debris being swept; this could easily be handled in a couple of brief dim-outs. It doesn’t even really work as an homage to the original, as pretty much everyone I know prefers to watch the three segments straight through. And, by the way, already unneeded “ten-minute” intermissions that take thirteen minutes are nasty enough to qualify Rutherford for membership in the Evil League of Evil.
With that notable exception, though, Black Button Eyes has done a remarkable job of transferring this campy show to the stage. Bad Horse would be proud.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Live On Stage will run through November 6. Tickets are available at Black Button Eyes.