26 January 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog review

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog is an independently produced musical film project originated by Joss Whedon, who created the famous Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS), Angel and Firefly TV shows. Joss and his half-brother Jed co-wrote the music and lyrics. What makes the project unusual is that the film was self-funded without the involvement of a studio and that the film was released via internet channels (iTunes, Hulu). The cast was unpaid, though the production and crew casts were recouped via iTunes and DVD sales.

I am a huge fan of musicals and also a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After watching "Once More With Feeling" (the BtVS musical episode), I was compelled to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog on Hulu [1].

The story is basically a satire on the comic book superhero stereotype, with a few twists thrown in. I'm not a huge fan of superheros or most comedy, so I wasn't really entertained. I'm not the person to ask though.

Neil Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible) and Nathan Fillion (Captain Hammer) were very good. I expected no less from Harris, who in addition to being an actor, has sung professionally in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and Assassins. Harris sings very well, with nice expression in his voice. In contrast, I'm not aware of Fillion having any musical experience. I was pleasantly surprised with singing. He acts very well through his singing. Fillion steals the show as a swaggering Captain Hammer. Felicia Day (who plays Penny, the love interest) has a weak voice and not much expression in it. It was weird to have a love interest played by an alto. Her vocal range overlapped pretty heavily with Harris's tenor. This is definitely not typical in most Broadway musicals.

The music and lyrics were decent (worse things have been put on in multi-million dollar Broadway productions), but not as good as "Once More With Feeling." I enjoyed "My Freeze Ray", "Brand New Day," "So They Say", and "Slipping." A few songs seemed repetitive. I didn't like any of Penny's songs. Fortunately, there weren't too many obviously pastiche numbers besides the Bad Horse songs (where pastiche was done for the comic effect). I would have liked some ensemble songs (think "Into the Woods" or "A Weekend in the Country") and there just weren't any in this musical. I realize that wasn't possible with the small-scale production values and the brevity of the work. The lyrics were good, but nothing remarkable except for Captain's Hammer's amusing posturing.

I don't understand all the internet hype about this musical. It's a decent musical and impressive for the small cast/crew/budget, but who are all these people -- Whedonites? I suspect that Dr. Horrible is a romp for comic book fans (in the same way The Guild is for MMORPG diehards). Maybe that's what I'm missing.

I do appreciate Joss Whedon's efforts to bring musicals and small, independent projects to a wider audience. It's sad but musicals are a dying interest in the US. Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog is a good introduction to musicals for the superhero nerd but non-musical nerd in your life.

[1] The free Hulu viewings expire in two days.

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