It seems a little odd to review a musical running in Chicago just two days before its final performance, but I wanted to go on record about BOOP! The Musical. I got to see it back on December 5, but didn’t have a chance to write this until now.
It is, as you may have guessed, a stage musical featuring the iconic Fleischer animation heroine, Betty Boop. Melanie and I got to see the World Premiere, out-of-town run before the show moves to Broadway, sometime next year.
Producers do out-of-town runs so they can sort of workshop a new musical and make changes based on a live audience reaction. By the time BOOP! moves to Broadway, it might be substantially different.
However, I’m thinking it’s not going to be that much different because, as it is, BOOP! is nearly perfect. The songs are catchy as hell. The story is fun. The stagecraft is amazing. And Jasmine Amy Rogers (seen left), who plays Betty Boop, will likely come out of this role as a major star. She really IS Betty Boop, come to life.
The show is about 90% perfect. I’m sure the producers will tinker with the pacing and I hear that the composer, David Foster, has two new songs ready to plug into the production. At this point, it seems that this show just needs minor tweaks to become a major hit. I felt that one song we hear as a false climax would pack more punch if it were foreshadowed with a less-orchestrated verse much earlier in the show, but that’s a minor note.
So much of BOOP! is simply stellar. Bob Martin contributes a clever book that weaves romance, spectacle and interdimensional travel into a thrilling and delightful story. Susan Birkenhead’s lyrics and David Foster’s music manage the difficult feat of capturing the Golden Age Jazz sound of the original Betty Boop cartoons while still projecting a contemporary vibe.
Jerry Mitchell, who directed and choreographed this show has conducted a symphony of pop culture visuals and dance numbers that pay tribute to the original cartoons as well as remaining strikingly original.
Speaking of strikingly original, the scenic design by David Rockwell and the projection design by Finn Ross help immerse the audience in a world based on classic Fleischer animation in the beginning, and then a full-color astonishingly surreal New York City in the “real world.”
The cast is amazing, and we have to once again note that Jasmine Amy Rogers shines brightly in what should be a career-defining role. She has the look, the voice, and the attitude of Betty Boop, and she also has the acting chops and emotional range to bring her into the real world.
Stephen DeRosa is equally amazing as the real-life embodiment of Grampy. Pudgy the dog is onstage via the puppeteer, Philip Huber, and after his first appearance, you forget that there’s a man pulling the strings visible on stage.
Broadway vet, Faith Prince is a hoot as Grampy’s love interest, Valentina, and Ainsley Anthony Melham is great as Betty’s real-world love interest, Dwayne, although he could stand to work on his fake trumpet playing a little.
The story opens with Betty hard at work making the cartoons that we all know and love today. The set and costuming are monochromatic, looking like a Fleischer cartoon come to life. After a long day on the set, Betty expresses her desire to take a vacation “Where nobody knows me.” Grampy tells her about the real world, and shows her a machine he’s made out of an overstuffed chair that can take her there. But he warns her not to use it because the real world is so dangerous and scary.
Of course, after Grampy dozes off, Betty uses the machine and arrives…at the 2023 New York Comic Con. Suddenly, everything is in bright, vibrant color. Betty encounters cosplayers dressed as DC Comics, Marvel and Hanna Barbera characters (and more), and experiences colors for the first time with the showstopper tune, “In Color.”
Now, I have to admit that, being a comic book nerd for over 55 years, a musical that includes interdimensional travel, classic animation references, Easter Eggs buried in the animated sets AND cameos by Superman, Cyclops, Velma Dinkley, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Chewbacca and more has pretty much punched all my buttons.
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the plot. Let’s just say that we get a couple of love stories, a city politics subplot, a little sexual harrassment, some inspiring feminism, plus a potentially world-ending crisis, all set to impeccably crafted tunes that will stick in your head for months.
I will be shocked if BOOP! The Musical does not go on to have a major run on Broadway (possibly as the first show in the raised and refurbished Palace Theater). I can see BOOP! very easily becoming a hot-ticket show like Book of Mormon or Hamilton. It’s that good.
I also see multiple Tony Awards in its future.
The Chicago run at the CIBC Theater ends December 24, so it might be difficult to see it before it makes the big move, but trust me, you’ll have plenty of chances to see it once it moves to New York. I have a feeling BOOP! will be around for a long time.
Check out the short teaser video and a preview song (“Where I Wanna Be,” heard on the most recent episode of Mel Larch’s Curtan Call, on The AIR)…
And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back every day for fresh content, even on Christmas.