From the Chicago Tribune
Nerdy good fun and a self-doubting cyborg in this new musical at Lifeline Theatre
June 12, 2015
By Chris Jones
★★★ (Out of 4)
Like journalists and NBA stars, superheroes may look like they align to save the world, but they’re actually an internally competitive bunch. And on what grounds does the average cyborg compete? It’s not so much built-in weaponry or fighting chops. No, everyone has those tricks. What really matters in any super-hierarchy is a really good origin story. If you can’t spin a great tale of whence you came, your brand is as limited as your leadership potential. Hillary Clinton and a host of Republican rivals are all worrying about the very same issue right now.
Fatale, the weirdly lovable central character in the Austin Grossman novel “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” operates at the command of the leaders of the world — who rely on an elite squad of superheroes to keep us all out of trouble. But she actually spends more time thinking about where she stands on the good-versus-evil scale than actually doing anything useful for others. As played by the superb Christina Hall in this new, nerd-friendly musical — the book is by Christopher M. Walsh and the amusingly intense score by Christopher Kriz — the angst-ridden cyborg is too smart for her own good, realizing early on that she is a slave to her own code, and thus may be a traitor if someone with nefarious intent first wrote her story, and there will be nothing she can do. There is a good chance, she thinks, that the codewriter was none other than the arch super villain, Dr. Impossible. So how can she fight him? With himself?
And you thought you had problems.
Fatale, like much of this very teen-appropriate, college-friendly, oldster-teasing show at the Lifeline Theatre, has a sense of humor, as does Mr. Mystic (Frederick Harris), the down-to-earth Damsel (Corrbette Pasko) and the rest of the crew, excluding Elphin (Sarah Scanlon), an annoying 900-year-old elf who prattles on about special favors from Titania. At one point Fatale dryly suggests that no one ask her to update their iPhone, being as she’s built on an android platform. If that kind of tech-support humor tickles your operating system, then “Soon I Will Be Invincible” is your ticket.
But this is no simple parody. Fatale’s identity crisis struck me as not that far from potential reality, assuming we build robots like her with enough emotional intelligence to question their own purpose and wonder about their birth parents, or birth programmers, anyway. I don’t know. Maybe you have to be flesh and blood to want to know your beginnings, although I swear I hear the same sadness, sometimes, in Siri. And on the other side of the great divide, Phil Timberlake’s gaunt Dr. Impossible spends about half his time trying to destroy the world and its super-heroic protectors, and the other half wondering if anything is worth so much bother. At one point, we see the self-reflective and empathetic villain in Starbucks, which he explains by pointing out that, on some days, you just don’t feel evil, but you do feel like a cappuccino.
Timberlake also is consistently fascinating in this show: his character knows it’s all smoke and mirrors, this super villain business: “In street clothes,” he says with a shrug, “I’d just be a criminal.”
I should note that “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” which is directed by Paul S. Holmquist, has a certain stiffness and a general lack of fluidity in the staging and the music is taped, which is unfortunate, since it lends a pre-packaged air to a show that otherwise is all about characters wanting to understand their present and act with spontaneity. Or what passes thereof, if your are robotic.
But if everyone picked up the pace a bit and took the air out of the transitions — surely a superhero can lose 10 minutes of indulgence in Rogers Park — this show has considerable potential, not least because it combines the tropes of the musical with the language of futurism — near-futurism — in a very striking and original fashion. I had a great time watching all these needy super whatnots act out their angst.
“Who’s a hero?” whines Fatale. “Who programmed who?” Good questions for a very fun and fresh night.
From Around the Town Chicago
June 11, 2015
By Carole Moore
★★★★ (Out of 5)
I love Lifeline Theatre because their plays are always brilliantly staged original adaptations of interesting books including some of my all-time favorites – “Neverwhere”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Busman’s Honeymoon”, “Jane Eyre” and “Monstrous Regiment” among others. This year, Christopher Walsh’s musical adaptation of Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” brings superheroes to the Lifeline stage, a summer treat not to be missed. Get your tickets now.
Lifeline’s set (Alan Donahue) and lighting (Becca Jeffords) designers have done a masterful job with the challenge of staging/set design for some special superheroes who are traversing the known universe. What looks like a wall – and occasionally the cosmos – turns out to be much more. A doorway halfway up reveals the evil Dr. Impossible (Phil Timberlake) in prison; an odd-shaped panel drops down to form a ramp; another panel goes transparent to reveal Dr. Impossible lurking; floor-level doors at each side allow the cast to enter and exit. With the addition of another ‘ramp/table’ on the wall, battles can be fought. Director Paul S. Holmquisrt has his actors using every inch of stage and ramp, plus the stairs in the middle of the audience.
An exhibit in the lobby outlines Costume Designer Aly Renee Amidel’s development of each character’s unique superhero look. All of the Champions have bright, colorful costumes, except for Mr. Mystic (Frederick Harris), who wears a rather boring black suit.
The Champions – legendary CoreFire (Jason Kellerman), heroic Blackwolf (Tommy Malouf), Damsel (Corbette Pasko), who likes to state the obvious, Elphin (Sarah Scanlon), the last fairy left on earth, Rainbow Triumph (Taryn Wood), a former child prodigy/hero and Mr. Mystic who manipulates magic – have locked Dr. Impossible into an ‘escape proof’ prison. By the way, the overpowering music made it difficult to hear the words of the “Prologue”.
Ten years later, CoreFire has vanished and is thought dead. Fatale (Christina Hall), an insecure cyborg, is the newest recruit reporting to the Champions. Since she has little or no self-esteem – after all, she weighs 500 pounds, can’t sit in a chair that’s not specially reinforced, and she can’t find anything to wear. She thinks her new costume, designed especially for her body, is the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
After Dr. Impossible escapes from prison, the brilliant and totally evil scientist dons a red and gold costume. He loves to swish his gold cape and make snarky comments. He’s going to build a weapon with which can destroy the world, but he’s going to have to travel around the galaxy gathering a few things he needs first.
As Fatale, who is equipped with super-enhancements, is training with the other Champions, another new recruit joins them. Lily (Justine C. Turner) has a history – she was Dr. Impossible’s accomplice in the past, but she’s been reborn as a cyborg dedicated to good. In an epic battle, the two empowered female cyborgs manage to defeat Dr. Impossible.
From The Fourth Walsh
June 9, 2015
By Katy Walsh
The phrase rolling through my head since seeing this show is ‘commercial appeal.’ I can easily see this innovative musical mounted on Broadway and becoming a family tourism destination. It has super heroes battling a super villain while struggling with their super identities. There’s comedy, drama, and singing. It’s “The Incredibles” meets “X-Men” with a “Wicked”-esque soundtrack.
The show starts with the Champions, a band of super heroes, saving the world. The super ensemble arrive on stage in perfect harmony. They are clad in distinct and ingenious costumes (Designer Aly Renee Amidei). The colorful spectacle pops on Scenic Designer Alan Donahue’s slick, industrial backdrop. I’m already so engaged with these Champions a character’s selfless act during “The Prologue” number makes me go ‘awwww.‘
Adapter Christopher Walsh (no relation) writes like he acts zinging the one liner. Walsh keeps the book tight with plenty of comedy. And Director Paul S. Holmquist paces it for optimal action and laughs. The deliciously diabolical Phil Timberlake (Dr. Impossible) especially nails the humor. Timberlake steals many scenes with his over-the-top evil shenanigans. At one point, during his dastardly plans, he hilariously takes time out to discuss his costume choices. The entire ensemble gets Walsh’s humor and their energetic spirit is playful. Leading the good guys with confident moxie, Corrbette Pasko (Damsel) often drops the public super hero facade for the comedic barb. When annoyed, Pasko rips on her ex by referring to him by his real name and not his super hero alias.
This show is funny! It’s also heartfelt. Christopher Kriz (music and lyrics) has composed a powerful score with inspirational lyrics befitting a super hero existentialist crisis. The outstanding Christina Hall (Fatale) perfectly sings her cyborg heart out. Hall earnestly questions her origin story and her Champion membership. The “What I was” duet, with the mysterious Justine C. Turner (Lily), is a beautiful and soulful introspection. Kriz also penned a haunting song called ‘Lily.’ Initially, Timberlake sings it with unexpected tenderness for a bad dude. Later, Turner captivates by reprising it. Kris mixes these ballad moments in with we-are-going-to-kick-some-ass anthems. The combination is dynamic! There is a lot to love about this show and Kris’ music is #1.
What I appreciate about Lifeline is the element of surprise. They don’t just stay with what they do best (for me, I love their classic adaptations). They step out of their familiar offerings. They’ve done action-oriented plays. And they’ve done musicals. Now, they are doing an action-packed musical. SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE is invincible! I want to see it again!
From Edge Chicago
June 9, 2015
By Christine Malcom
As a debut novel Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” was a fresh and engaging enough entry into a crowded genre that its ambition made amends for most of its flaws. The same is true of Lifeline Theatre’s adaptation into a musical stage play.
Christopher M. Walsh’s adaptation, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, hits the ground running in a rousing prologue. As The Champions battle giant robot spiders, and lose one of their own, Walsh demonstrates his grasp of voice, a deft hand with dialogue as exposition and the ability to poke fond, good-natured fun at some of the excesses and tropes of a beloved genre.
The whole of the two-hour play makes good on the strength of that first scene. Yes, there are moments where plot and character development are accelerated to the point that they fly by before the audience can really digest them, and yes we’re still getting origin stories immediately before the story’s climax. But rather than feeling artificial or the result of insufficient attention to structure, they read as part of the workaday life of the characters.
In some ways, Walsh’s adaptation surpasses the novel. Grossman, by his own admission, finds his villain, Dr. Impossible, more compelling than the up-and-coming cyborg heroine, Fatale. One downstream effect of this is gendered: Dr. Impossible is the hero of his own story, while Fatale is stripped of hers by the accident that gave rise to her powers and thus more of a passive reporter of the stories of the Champions.
Not limited by Grossman’s device of two alternating first-person narrators (Impossible and Fatale), Walsh develops some characters (most notably Damsel, the leader of the Champions) and dynamics among them more fully, to the credit of the play.
That said, the friendship between Fatale and Lily Dr. Impossible’s former partner in crime who joins the New Champions at the same time, remains under-explored. Similarly, the parallels between Fatale’s formal function in the story and Lily’s true origin, in which her superpowers are an indirect result of her dissatisfaction with the role of the plucky reporter who tells her boyfriend’s story, don’t garner as much attention as they might have.
The glimpses we do get of the greater possibilities for building this world and these characters on stage and the aspects that are unsatisfying draw attention to the choice to adapt the novel as a musical.
Christopher Kriz’s synth-driven, percussion heavy music is enjoyable, the lyrics are solid, if not especially memorable, and the cast are capable singers. But most of the songs are more or less expository soliloquies. They’re serving much the same function as the dialogue, rather than deepening what we know about the characters and the plot or conveying complexities more efficiently. Given that, it’s hard not to wonder if the story might have been better served if adapted as a straight play.
As is typical for Lifeline, the show looks great. Alan Donahue’s scenic design covers the upstage wall with black scrim, with studded “beams” breaking the expanse into fractured trapezoids that suggest the panels in a graphic novel.
The only downside of this choice is that the great-looking projections were sometimes hard to see against the dark fabric. This was unfortunate, as far from simply remaining static to establish the scene, they’d ripple or pulse or “activate” in some other way, in conjunction with sound and lighting cues (great design on both fronts by Christoper Kriz and Becca Jeffords, respectively, and sound engineering by Mikey Moran) to denote powers being deployed, magic taking effect, and so on, a very cool idea that I wished I’d been able to see better.
Elevated ramps behind the scrim give the set the necessary suggestion of descending deep into a structure or climbing high as necessary. One panel lowers at an angle like drawbridge, providing a ramp down, a shift in topography or the entrance to a new, strange and dangerous space. Matt Hawkins’ fight choreography works well in the space, making it seem larger than it is.
Aly Renee Amidei’s costume design does a good job of capturing a mixed-age sensibility and nods to the characters that inspired Grossman. Damsel’s costume combines Golden Age Wonder Woman with Big Barda, back when she still wore clothes; Black Wolf appropriately blends Batman and Wolverine; and Rainbow Triumph playfully mashes up Harley Quinn with Rainbow Brite. There were a few clunky choices, like Fatale’s pre-costume blaster flashlight and Baron Ether’s look that didn’t quite work, but on the whole Amidei pulls off an impressive and crucial aspect of the show.
The cast are all very good in individual performance and as a fractured group trying to hold itself together. Phil Timberlake leads the way, having an absolute ball in the role of Dr. Impossible. He plays the humor with expert instincts and never forgets that the villain is absolutely the hero of his own story.
As Fatale, Christina Hall has to do some fancy emotional footwork, combining bluster with hero worship and complete dislocation from her own identity and very body. She’s quite good, though the show itself doesn’t quite give the time needed to some of her emotional beats. The same holds true for Justine C. Turner’s Lily. Her reserve has an interesting, mournful undertone that never quite finds its moment.
Corbette Pasko is a standout as Damsel. She’s a capable, believable leader with a healthy sense of humor and just the right amount of petty to keep the character three-dimensional. Tommy Malouf distills the tragedy and comic flaws of the characters that inspired Black Wolf without ever venturing into imitation of any of a half dozen well-known performances he might have gravitated toward.
In the supporting cast, Taryn Wood (Rainbow Triumph), Sarah Scanlon (Elfin), Frederick Harris (Mr. Mystic and Baron Ether) and Jason Kellerman (CoreFire, Phenom, Nick Napalm) all do solid work inhabiting characters that clearly have back story and clear intentions at any given moment.
From the Reader
June 9, 2015
By Suzanne Scanlon
There’s a lot happening in this musical adaptation of Soon I Will Be Invincible, the 2007 superhero novel by Austin Grossman. Fatale (Christina Hall) is the newest superhero to join the New Champions, an amusing crew that includes cyborgs, fairies, and a magician. A parallel story line follows the villain, Dr. Impossible (a charming Phil Timberlake), whose camped-up pathos makes it fun to watch as he’s eventually defeated in his quest to bring on a new ice age. There are many interludes for backstory, a by-product of the overloaded plot (it might help if you’ve read the book first), and no doubt more editing and focus would help this adaptation. Still, there are rousing ensemble numbers and impressive production elements, including clever costumes and a cool set with a descending plank.