by Joshua Kahn
You've got Silence!, the "Silence of the Lambs" musical. You've got
Bayside!, the "Saved By the Bell" musical. You've even got
Thrones!, another Game of Thrones musical currently playing in Los Angeles. The world is rife with parody and it's a tricky genre to pin down tonally, doubly so when the source material is already as extreme as "A Song of Ice and Fire."
Fortunately, writers and composers Steven Christopher Parker, Steven Brandon, Erin Stegeman, and Peter Frintrup have cut their teeth on Lost: The Musical! and
Once Upon A Time: The Rock Opera before taking their talents from ABC to HBO for
Game of Thrones: The Musical, playing at Macha Theatre in West Hollywood.
It can be easy for parody to feel like a blatant cash grab by preying on audiences' devotion to the source material. Fortunately, GoT avoids those trappings. They create a fun and lively atmosphere, like a group of old friends getting together to put on a show for a receptive Saturday night audience.
The musical covers the plot of the first book/season of the series as with any parody, familiarity with the source is a must. Here's the cliffnotes: Ned Stark, head of the reigning family of the rural North, becomes the King's right hand man and stumbles into a conspiracy involving incestuous twins, dragons, treachery, murder and tap-dancing direwolves (unfortunately they don't tap dance in the TV show or books).
At first, too much of the humor relies on the easy laugh: sex jokes, cursing, explicit shout outs to specific scenes from the television show. But thanks to delirious commitment from the cast, led largely by Milo Shearer as a vain, cocksure Ned Stark, almost every joke lands. At times they go admirably out of their way to make wonderfully bad puns that simultaneously make you laugh, groan, and marvel at the writer's love of the material. The meta-commentary on the TV show sticks mostly to referring to specific episode numbers and Emmy wins. Gags like these draw laughs of recognition, but lack substance. It isn't until Tyrion Lannister's big number about how his fan-favorite status will prevent him from being killed off that this type of meta-humor is approached with a strong viewpoint. The song, "You Can't Kill Me," performed with impish glee by Brad Simanski, kicks the show into high gear. For the rest of the first act and the entirety of the superlative second, the jokes are stronger, the songs are better and the characterizations are sharper.
It's at its best when it deviates from the plot or provides a unique viewpoint on "Game of Thrones'" sometimes arcane storytelling. The skewering of the Night's Watch and the Wall (and an uproarious butchering of the Night's Watch Oath) is a highlight. Perhaps most valuable is the inclusion of author George RR Martin (a daffy Jay Stephenson), who Seussically narrates the tale from his junk food littered desk and gets into occasional arguments with his characters. It's great when the parody is narrow and focused like this. Unfortunately, a fun conceit with Arya Stark (Meghan Modrovsky, terrific) gets abandoned halfway through. Elsewhere, the level of parody seems to be just in making a character loud and broad.
Perhaps due to the theatre's iffy acoustics or some volume issues with the canned music, some lyrics are difficult to hear. The lighting and staging are on the simplistic side, probably because of the theatre's technical limitations. The costumes are a bit inconsistent, ranging from inspired to high-quality Halloween. Through all of this, the large cast is strong enough to overcome the shortcomings of the technical aspects.
The indie production doesn't have the production values of the biggest TV hit of all time and that shouldn't deter you! Leave your boring friends who don't watch "GoT" at home (we've all got some), get a couple drinks at the lobby bar, and enjoy. There are two casts to see (this review is for House Targaryen, which performs Saturday and Sunday nights. House Lannister performs Friday nights and Saturday afternoons), and if Cast Lannister is as entertaining as Cast Targaryen, you'll be in fine shape any performance you attend.
Game of Thrones the Musical is running through April 16th at Macha Theatre.
Get your tickets here.
Photos by Todd Leykamp.