Betty Boop, the cartoon character who had her 1930s origins in a series of black-and-white short films, is fully fleshed out as a colorful three-dimensional icon in this new musical that is energetic from start to finish.
The plot construct is that the title character is tired of being seen as two-dimensional and trite, and wants some deeper meaning in her life. She embarks on a fantastical journey through time and space to discover that she’s meant many things to her fans all along, and embodies love, strength, ambition and acceptance worldwide.
Betty is brought to life by Jasmine Amy Rogers, who steps into her bow-tied pumps with a voice that would curl your own hair and a consistency of character work that is not only plausible but endearing. She is joined by a solid group of leads including Broadway veteran Faith Prince, who has a beautiful salty turn as Valentina, a love interest of Betty’s Grampy. Grampy is played by Stephen DeRosa with comic genius and an echo of Doc in “Back to the Future.” Betty catapults into the future with Grampy’s time-travel invention, and the audience is in for a wild ride as she plops from a black-and-white world into the arresting palette of Comic Con. A perfect baptism by color for our Betty!
Harkening back to the films of the 1930s, there is a “meet cute” moment at Comic Con between Betty and Dwayne that drives the plot of Betty learning about love, life and her own strength. Dwayne is played by Ainsely Anthony Melham as the freshest triple threat we’ve seen in years. He was born to dance, tap, sing, smile and endear himself in this role, and is a breathtaking surprise in the show. His emotional range is as incredible as his energy.
His younger sister is played by Angelica Hale (“America’s Got Talent” finalist) with a set of pipes that seems implausible for her diminutive size. The leads are rounded out by Erich Bergen as Raymond Demarest, the so-called villain of the story. We’ve seen Bergen for years on television’s “Madame Secretary,” and his musical theater talent is solid. The ensemble players are wonderful as well, with energy, dance chops and versatility.
Betty’s journey from a monochrome, flat world to the dazzlingly colorful love letter to New York City is designed in a fresh and new manner with no stone unturned. Kudos to scenic designer David Rockwell and projection designer Finn Ross (his vertical moving map of Manhattan is an amazing visual as are his vintage skylines). Costuming by Gregg Barnes is beautiful in all the scenes, with attention paid to every single sequin. In particular, the Comic Con costumes are fun because they capture characters from every era. The opening scene in gradations of grayscale are beautiful and reminiscent of the films of the ’20s and ’30s. The transitions in set and costume are seamless, and keep the energetic pacing of the show at a perfect speed.
And most of all, the music of David Foster and lyrics of Susan Birkenhead are exhilarating and match the beauty of the meaning of the story. Rarely does a brand-new musical have the audience gasping and trying to sing along with tunes they’ve never even heard before, but that is the case with “Boop!” Notable songs are “She Knocks Me Out,” sung by Melham, and “Why Look Around the Corner,” a duet by Rogers and Melham.
Take the A train, the flux capacitor or whatever you need to get to see this show before it leaves for Broadway. It’s rich in beauty, music, meaning and color – a true original.
• Mary Beth Euker is a founding director of Cricket Theatre Company in Lake Zurich, has appeared in shows at Devonshire Theatre in Skokie and Woodstock Opera House, and directs at Lake Zurich Middle School North and Spencer Loomis Elementary.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Boop! The Musical”
WHERE: CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago
WHEN: Through Dec. 24 in limited pre-Broadway engagement
COST: Tickets start at $30; group sales of 10 or more available by calling Broadway in Chicago Group Sales at 312-977-1710