‘Mew-sical’ toys with meta-nostalgia

Pokémon forever. Or at least for this WEEKEND.

Implicit in the production of “The Pokémon Mew-sical” is the notion that Ash Ketchum, his spunky sidekick, Pikachu, and their attempts to catch all of the pseudo-magical wildlife surrounding them will never be forgotten by our generation. Why? Every 10-year-old wants to go on an adventure. Most had to substitute a television or a GameBoy cartridge.

Written by Gabe Greenspan ’14 and Ryan Bowers ’14, “Mew-sical” attempts to recreate that elementary school sense of wonder by taking Yalies on another adventure with old friends: recklessly enthusiastic Ash, played by Mark Trapani ’14, and Pikachu, played by Jen Mulrow ’14, who communicates a lot with three syllables. Along the way, they team up with the resentful Misty (Laurel Durning-Hammond ’14) and the luckless-in-love Brock (Nelson Madubuonwu ’13). Ash fights with rival Gary (Greenspan) who revels in the ooze of frat-boy self-assuredness. And, of course, the inept Team Rocket trio of Jesse (Lucy Cabrera ’14), James (Matthew Prewitt ’12) and Meowth (Jake Backer ’14) tries several suitably ridiculous schemes to steal Pikachu.

“Mew-sical”, however, tries to build beyond Saturday morning anime with a load of self-reference almost too heavy for the fourth wall. Much of this is accomplished through Greenspan and Bower’s original score, which has characters sing what they want, how they feel and exactly what they’re going to do about it. While this doesn’t make for memorable music, it allows easy ways to comment on the ridiculousness of the Pokémon world (every plan that Team Rocket suggests relies on the use of a large Magikarp submarine), the banality of pointing out the ridiculousness of the Pokémon world (the revelation that “Ekans is snake backwards!” dawns on several characters) and even on the show’s premise itself, hanging several lampshades on its more absurd conceits, especially near its end. This builds to a mass of references that is simultaneously complex (diehard Nintendo fans will love tracking every sidebar) and accessible (most of the obscure references are lampooned a beat later for their own obscurity).

If “Mew-sical” does not assume a level of Pokémon proficiency, it at least demands Pokémon enthusiasm. Brock’s rap, for instance, would lose a lot of its hilarious swag if you can’t enjoy the fact that, yes, Madubuonwu just dropped a rhyme with “Seaking.” Occasionally, the show takes the audience for granted and becomes overconfident in its ability to register. Some scenes, like Ash’s summoning of Charizard, insist too strongly on being important, and, in their silver-platter delivery, drive the show away from its more free-form fun. The plot involving Giovanni’s (Jordan Ascher ’14) attempts to capture Pikachu, in particular, smacks of contrivance, built mostly off of having a “real” but deranged person deal, using violence, with Pokémon’s alternate reality.

Part of the appeal of being ‘meta’ is that it makes it possible to perform a “Pokémon Mew-sical” without it being entirely Pokémon. Characters swear, everyone makes fun of Ash’s complete ineptitude, and the audience feels that it’s watching something more knowledgeable, and more knowing, than the original product. The standard feeling is “I liked that as a kid, but now I can laugh at that kid.” “Mew-sical” does a lot of work there, but its strongest moments come when it identifies with the childish love it occasionally lampoons. A set piece scene convinces you to root for Pikachu against a horde of Spearows. In Durning-Hammond’s portrayal of Misty, you get a glimpse of a believable 10-year-old girl who can hold a vendetta against the boy who broke her 5000-pokédollar bike while still resenting the fact that he cares more about his Metapod than her. Pokémon was always set a fake world, but the kids who conquer it have to be real. They have to be us. The occasional moments when “Mew-sical” sweeps the audience into its world rely on the audience’s identification with the kids they once wished they were. Though it may occasionally hide under several layers of reference, the heart of “Mew-sical” rests in the conviction that this was our adventure, and that it still can be.

“The Pokemon Mew-sical” is running this Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Pierson-Davenport Theater.

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