Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: Sequined Ponies Save the Day in BRONIES! THE MUSICAL

Josey Montana McCoy and Stephanie Hayslip. Photos by Roger Fojas.

Bronies! The Musical made a big splash at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. The preview production won multiple awards including Best Musical, the Thirty9One Golden Elephant for best director/producers, and a Producers’ Encore Award. More importantly, it won the hearts of everyone who saw it.

I wasn’t able to catch it at the Fringe but I did see it over the weekend in its latest incarnation at Third Street Theatre in West Hollywood and I can see why it resonated with so many people. It’s fun, it’s uplifting, and its optimism will put a smile on your face whether you like it or not. Full of silliness of the sincerest kind, it’s a sweet show that simply makes you happy.

Bronies are adult (mostly male) fans of the 1980s “My Little Pony”  franchise of toys and animated entertainment. Originally created for young girls, it fostered another cult following in the bronies who adopted its themes of empowerment, appreciation for one’s talents, and unconditional love. It addresses real world challenges like bullying and self-doubt while the ponies help replace tender insecurities with confidence and appreciation for the things we love that make us who we are.


The show is presented in one act, approximately an hour and twenty minutes long, and follows three boys who are each struggling to find his way. Tyler (emphatically intense Richy Storrs), is persecuted by the school’s jocks at every turn, including Austin (handsome leading man Taylor Helmboldt), who has yet to learn how to speak up for what’s right. Jacob (the incredibly versatile Josey Montana McCoy) is stuck working at the school as a janitor under the thumb of his misguided father (Tom G. McMahan), who doesn’t realize he’s crushing the life out his son’s dreams.

As each boy stumbles upon the ponies and adopts one as his personal muse, their journey to friendship begins, and with the help of the others, they’ll learn to stand up for themselves as they never have before.

The cast is a young, talented up-and-coming group of energetic actors who happily look the age of the characters they play. The strangely compelling ponies: Pink Pony (Shelley Regner), White Pony (Stephanie Hayslip), Blue Pony (Brielle Batino) and Yellow Pony (Charlotte Mary Wen) are a glamourous sequined fortress against the pessimism of the world who shadow their humans like nurturing angels. Plus, this Dreamgirls/Weather Girls quartet sounds like they’re going to bust into a chorus of “It’s Raining Men” any minute...and I almost wish they would. They sing beautifully and bring the lovely harmonies of Joe Greene’s score to life with panache. Musical director Jennifer Linn has done great work not only with their sound, but the sound of the entire cast. Their choral anthem that ends the show is a highlight.

The adorable puppets manipulated by the Ponies are created by Russ Walko, and yes, they even do some delightful puppet pony choreography by John Todd. Richard Israel directs this world premiere, which features book & lyrics by Heidi Powers and Tom Moore, in addition to Greene's music. Israel goes beneath the obvious fun to reach for layers that make the musical more than just a piece of fluff. There’s heart and depth and a real investment in communicating the story without diminishing it.

In addition to the students, Powers & Moore’s book is populated with sweet, eccentric characters - like DJ Keith (Mark Gelsomini), Tyler’s mom (hilarious Gabby Sanalitro) and Hank (played by Greene) who also support the growth of their friends and family members in quirky ways. Get out of Mrs. Mason’s way when she finds out her son has been bullied! This is a woman you definitely want on your side...or she’ll chew you up and spit you out in little tiny pieces.

Joel Daavid’s set design is a multipurpose combination of revolving platforms and walls that capture the look of a brightly colored television show. Israel stages the moving in and out of pieces perfectly in tightly choreographed scene changes that look like a dance. It’s all in the details and he accounts for every single one.

Violence and aggression have no place in the world of optimism and with Bronies! the writers have offered an alternative point of view that sparkles like a rainbow beacon in the distance to guide and teach while entertaining in song and dance. Sounds like a musical theatre world to me.

Anna Grace Barlow and Taylor Helmboldt

Brielle Batino, Stephanie Hayslip, Shelley Regner and Charlotte Mary Wen

Richy Storrs (center) and the cast of Bronies! The Musical

Josey Montana McCoy and Joe Greene

The cast of Bronies! The Musical

BRONIES! THE MUSICAL
September 25 – November 1, 2014
Third Street Theatre
8115 W. Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
www.broniesthemusical.com

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Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
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