When Laura and I started looking for some theater to take in while we were at C2E2 in Chicago, we stumbled across a listing for Nefarious!. It's a small production of an original musical comedy about superheroes, and the theater is called the "Cornservatory," what's not to love?
So, we took the train from our hotel in the south loop up to the show, and forked over $10 apiece for tickets. (Little did we know it was a BYOB venue, FYI for you, LOL.) We also dragged Stevie D with us, because if it was bad, we wanted independent witnesses to confirm that fact for us.
This is my first time ever reviewing a play or musical, so bear with me here.
Not one year after she destroyed Miss Cosmo, the evil Supervillainess Lilith is plotting and planning something big. Something known only as “Project Pandora (2.0).” It’s up to the courageous Mister Bulleit, his faithful sidekick Dr. Watts, and the rest of the Superstar Hot Hero Club to outwit and subdue the mighty Lilith and her Unified Rogue Union.
The musical opens with a number about Metropalopalis, the city where the superheroes are paid to fight crime (they've formed a union.) As far as the songs go, this is the best one. They could have easily done away with the rest.
I found a lot of charm in the theater itself. There was the cozy size of the venue (there were 11 people in the audience including us, and we filled up half the seats), the fact that the cast had to pull the curtains across the stage themselves when they wanted to close them, and the backdrops that were really just painted sheets.
The costumes were, for the most part, pretty creative, using what they had available to put them together (including re-purposing what looked like a Green Lantern uniform). In some cases it seemed like they might have used outfits left over from a Matrix parody. There was a superhero named Superguy (pronounced, "super-gee") that was essentially a mime with a domino mask, but since he had the crap kicked out of him first thing, I found that really entertaining. Our favorite character, Dr. Watts, had laser beam fingers made out of some LED lights (or maybe keychain laser pointers) which were the coolest prop of any of the cast.
A lot of the jokes in the show fell flat, including almost everything "Mister Bulleit" had to sing or speak. However, if the aim of the script and performance was to show what an enormous toolbag Bulleit is, then it succeeded. (I politely leave all "tool" and "spandex" jokes to Stevie and Laura, who are apparently on the "size matters" bandwagon.) There were some concepts that, with better execution, could become brilliant. (The "HustlerBeam" as part of one character's superpowers was fantastic, but needs a little work on the finish.)
Nefarious! is part satire, so the references to pop culture were plentiful. Not only was there the low-budget parkour that probably would make Julie Taymor throw herself in a volcano, but there were lines about Groupon, Pandora 2.0, and Moesha. There was even a pair of super (bad) twins that had a podcast. (The twins, Anime and Yami, were actually two of the funniest characters in the play.)
(Apologies for the crappy nature of my photography.)
Here's where I wrote: SLAPFIGHTS! There was an excellent showdown between one of the heroes and one of the villainous Unified Rogue League, but it was the last in the production that used the size of the stage to its comedic advantage. The big "finale" fight didn't quite work, and adding the most geriatric strobe light I've ever seen just made it all the more awkward.
Part of the plot involved what started out as a mysterious miscarriage (which Laura and I presumed was some sort of Spider-man-like Mystical Abortion,) but which turned out to be a not-so-mystical abortion after all. Whenever you write the major motivation for becoming a supervillain as a bad breakup over an unwanted pregnancy, you wander from campy caped satire in to uncomfortable silence territory. (Actually, writing it up just now, it does seem like a funny concept on paper. In execution it was terrible.)
If the Cornservatory were to ever re-stage an encore run of Nefarious!, Stevie D and I have some re-writes and sound effect tips for the director. It all seems moot to point out now, though, because the show ends soon, and it's regional theater anyway. Perhaps when it goes to Broadway we'll make our criticisms louder.
Nefarious! is playing today through Saturday at 8pm. The Cornservatory is located at 4210 N Lincoln, Chicago. Ticket Price: Wednesdays $7.00, Thursday $10 Fridays and Saturdays $15.00. Call 312-409-6435 for reservations or purchase tickets by clicking here.