Sunday, March 4, 2018

REVIEW: Up and Away

I was never really crazy about plays growing up. I’d see them, have a good time, and move on with my life. I’d much rather see a superhero movie than a play. Luckily for me, there’s a new show in town that’s got the best of both worlds. Read on for my full review of the musical superhero comedy Up and Away.

Disclaimer: I was provided complimentary tickets to Up and Away courtesy of Pittsburgh CLO.
Opinions are my own.

Pittsburgh CLO Up and Away musical comedy superhero

Up and Away is a brand new musical comedy show developed right here in Pittsburgh with a book and lyrics by Kevin Hammonds and music by Kristin Bair. It stars Michael Greer as Joe Jessup, a farm boy who moves to Big City and winds up becoming the world’s first superhero. John Wascavage plays his brother Jerry who reluctantly joins him on the adventure just to keep Joe safe. Erika Strasburg plays wannabe reporter Susie Dare. Christine Laitta and Quinn Patrick Shannon portray multiple roles. Like… they both play at least twenty roles apiece. I’ve never heard of such a thing but after this and the last two shows I’ve reviewed in this town, it’s my new favorite thing.

For being a ridiculously goofy superhero comedy, Up and Away has a phenomenal story and the actors do a great job with the material. Joe Jessup is a simple form boy with a good life. But when good isn’t enough, Joe moves out to Big City to pursue greatness. He plays the “simple” part up perfectly, always with a smile on his face even in the face of evil. His brother, Jerry, on the other hand, is a total coward and has no idea what jazz is but knows it can’t be good. They both have ridiculous southern accents, which I am doing in my head as I write this review. Susie Dare is at no point a damsel in distress and she more than deserves the reporter job she is willing to do anything - even approach a supervillain - to get. Quinn and Christine do such a great job with so many drastically different characters there are too many to name.

The music does a great job of setting the scene. We’re in a sorta 194X, the original superhero golden age, where radio is more common than TV and little boys sell newspapers on the corner. Lots of jazz and swing which is really impressive since there were just a drummer and two pianists. The music really helped tell the story. Joe discovers new powers mid-song and he rises to up the ranks at the radio station from one verse to the next.

Pittsburgh CLO Up and Away musical comedy superhero

I was surprisingly impressed by the stagecraft involved, especially in the portrayal of the superpower scenes. Instead of using traditional effects like wires for flight scenes, The effects relied on the actors to build the scene with props that did not exist instead of relying on special effects. And the sound design was on point. There’s one moment where we quickly transition from a penthouse apartment to a warehouse and you can actually hear the echo.

I was also really surprised with how sci-fi the story went. I really like the superpower that allows Joe to feel the heartbeats of his loved ones - no matter where they are. There’s a handful of supervillains, all homages to classic Spider-Man and Batman style of gimmicky bad guys. I also thought the alien abduction scene at the beginning was just going to be a throwaway to explain where the powers came from, but there ended up being some deep lore involved at the end. The second act especially went in a direction I didn’t see coming.

Pittsburgh CLO Up and Away musical comedy superhero

Up and Away is a hilarious parody of the superhero genre while also being a perfectly brilliant superhero story. It’s funny and charming, the relationships are realistic and emotional, and the adventure is a wild ride where the same thing never happens twice. I’ve honestly never left a stage show wanting a sequel, but I do. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Up and Away comics.

Up and Away is playing now through April 22nd at the Cabaret at Theater Square. And can I just say: This is the best theater I’ve ever been to. You’re seated at four-top tables and servers come around before the show and during intermission to offer drinks and food to enjoy during the show. That alone is amazing!