A superhero novel turned rock musical is often amusing even if it's not all-powerful.
Christopher M. Walsh read Austin Grossman’s drily comic 2007 superhero novel and saw the potential for a musical. That potential has been partially realized in Walsh’s adaptation with music by Christopher Kriz. Grossman’s novel is told from two first-person perspectives: those of evil genius super villain Dr. Impossible (Phil Timberlake), and Fatale (Christina Hall), a cyborg and aspiring superhero with no memory of how she acquired her half-robot body. Walsh maintains the alternating POV style, to uneven effect.
When CoreFire (Jason Kellerman), this world’s most powerful hero and Dr. Impossible’s archnemesis, goes missing, both Fatale and Impossible see opportunity. Fatale is recruited to join the newly reconstituted super team the Champions, while Impossible escapes the metahuman prison where he’d been biding his time before his next attempt at taking over the world (he’s tried 12 times before).
Grossman’s satiric jabs at superhero tropes won’t be new to fans of the genre, but he deploys them cleverly. Fatale’s confidence rises as she settles into a team dynamic with legends like legacy hero Damsel (Corbette Pasko) and grim avenger Blackwolf (Tommy Malouf), who happen to be former spouses, as well as the team’s other newcomer, the mysterious reformed villain Lily (Justine C. Turner). (Aly Renee Amidei's inventive costumes for all of these characters evoke an expert cosplayers' convention.)
Dr. Impossible, though, works alone, which means his scenes mostly consist of direct address, repurposing much of Grossman’s first-person inner monologue into, well, monologues. Despite Timberlake’s enjoyably egotistical performance, the disconnect between the two storylines is jarring.
Kriz’s synth-heavy score of wailing electric guitars and power ballads, on the other hand, left me largely befuddled—until it hit me what I think he was trying to do: He’s emulating the guitar-shredding, bombastic ’80s-style synth rock music that’s accompanied many a superhero TV show, from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the ’90s X-Men: The Animated Series and Spider-Man to the more recent Justice League Unlimited, and essentially treating superhero music as its own genre. If I’m on the right track, I’m still not sure it’s a super choice, but it’s a valid and highly supported one.
Lifeline Theatre. Book by Christopher M. Walsh. Music and lyrics by Christopher Kriz. Directed by Paul S. Holmquist. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins; one intermission.