During this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, one show kept
coming up with indescribably positive reviews: The Pokémusical. When I heard that it was playing for an extended
session, I dropped by to see what it was about The Pokémusical that earned the show so many Fringe awards.
By the end of Friday’s production, I was on my feet clapping,
sides sore from laughing non-stop. In other words, The Pokémusical is spectacular.
Adaptations are never easy, especially from geek culture to the
stage. If you focus on the plot points too much, you lose the heart. If you
focus on the heart of the original, you run the risk of coming off as
redundant. Too many in-jokes can alienate outside audiences and not enough
in-jokes will leave your dedicated fans wanting. The Pokémusical gets the equation right on the dot. The musical
moves through the first season of the show and the entirety of the Red and Blue
games while feeling complete and fresh. There is, at its core, a strong and
disarming story about a boy growing into a (still pretty boyish) young man
after making mistakes and almost losing all of his friends. But there are
enough nods to the original material in little movements, gags and sounds that
ardent fans of the franchise will be holding their sides. And having a stellar
cast does not hurt.
Josey Montana McCoy’s Ash Ketchum is a perfect transition from
the anime series. He encapsulates Ash’s immature energy as a child on a quest
that he does not quite understand. Kelsey Schulte’s Pikachu is a masterful
performance, saying everything about this iconic character through some brilliant
body language and the “Pika!” That being said, there are a few surprising
moments when you get to hear the quasi-Shakespearean internal voice of the Pokémon
which nods at Schulte’s incredible range.
Heather Ensley and Ben Burch (as Misty and Brock), respectively,
are fantastic, fleshing out characters we met but did not really get to know in
the show. Tyler Ledon as Gary is stellar, completely changing the perspective
and paradigm of the show’s ominous antagonist. Ledon invents a Gary that is
lovable from the get-go, hanging a lantern on Ash’s indescribable hatred for a
peer who seemed like a pretty decent guy. Mitchell Webb and Doug Kiphut fill in
as other citizens of the Pokémon
universe, switching costumes and changing accents at a frenetic pace. And fans
of the popular web series The Vault
will spot Steve Green (here playing Professor Oak) as well as Caleb Mills
(another member of the ensemble), both of whom add to this cast’s comedic
But The Pokémusical’s
greatest translation from the original show has to be Team Rocket. Jamie Mills
(Jessie), Peyton Crim (James) and Josh Hillinger (Meowth) are fantastic,
highlighting the odd traits of the show’s villains that made the Pokémon-nappers
so unforgettable. Mills is delightfully dastardly, Crim is exactly over-the-top
enough and Hillinger plays Meowth so closely that if you close your eyes, you’ll
swear that you are watching the show. Though the terror-trio does not get as
much stage time as Ash and Brock, they have one show-stopping joke that brought
the audience to tears.
Overall, The Pokémusical
is an absolute success. Every aspect of this play lands with finesse. Alex
Syiek’s script is clever and charming while maintaining a comforting yet snarky
undertone. Andrew Cooper’s music is inspiring, taking cues from the video game
and transforming them into catchy three-minute medleys. The music, by the way,
is played live by Jennifer Lin (piano) and Tim Thavirat (drums), who fill the
room with wonderful sounds just between the two of them. Taylor Wilkerson’s
lighting design matches the perfectly choreographed and energetic world that
director Joanna Syiek has managed to produce out of love for musical theater
and anime motion. And J Whitlark’s costume design puts a bow on the whole
package, imitating the color design from the original show so well that it will
take you no time whatsoever to believe that these are the real characters from
So much love and attention to detail has gone into this show. An
entire story is told through Pokémon cut-outs, catchy tunes and four black
boxes—something only possible with a group of people living in a realized and well
thought-out universe. During certain fights, it almost looks as though you are
staring at your Gameboy with two Pokémon trainers on either side as their
creatures duel for gym badges.
That being said, you do not need to be a Pokémon geek to “get”
this musical. Whether you have a library of Pokémon cards in your bedroom or
this is the first time you are hearing about the cultural phenomena, you will
have a blast at The Pokémusical.
These are some of the most talented and funny people in Hollywood putting on
one of the cheekiest productions you will see in a long time. Do yourself a
favor and go.
The Pokémusical will be
running every Friday night at 8 pm and every Saturday at midnight until
September 28th at the Elephant Space of the Theatre Asylum located at 1076
Lillian Way in Hollywood.
To find out more information and purchase tickets, visit http://colorandlighttheatre.org