Stranger Sings! review – goofy musical piggybacks on Netflix hit

Vaults, London
An exuberant but baggy Stranger Things parody hardly turns its source material upside down

It has a pulsating synth soundtrack and brought Kate Bush an overdue No 1 so why not make Stranger Things a musical? With nosebleed high notes, a box of fright wigs and a dancing Demogorgon, this parody of the Netflix hit amiably retreads events mostly from the first series.

Despite the songs and in-jokes, the exuberant production rarely gives the source material an extra dimension. One exception is a delirious scene which imagines Winona Ryder breaking out of the character of Joyce Byers, joined by a chorus line from her 80s movies – including Edward Scissorhands and a mallet-wielding mean girl from Heathers – and spitting fury for not winning an Emmy.

You’ll be lost if you’ve never seen the TV show. Justin Williams’s set is a faithful recreation of Joyce’s home: fairy lights, an A-Z scrawled on the wall and a yucky tendril wrapped around it. Upstage are Hawkins laboratory-style doors and the series’ opening scene, with that sweating scientist’s dash for the lift, kicks off the evening.

Georgia McElwee as Barb.
Georgia McElwee as Barb. Photograph: Giulia Paratelli

Annoying Will Byers is amusingly played by a blank-faced puppet, Holly Sumpton is a suitably jittery Joyce and Howard Jenkins’ Hopper has an unnerving compulsion to break out verses from Dear Evan Hansen. The cast attack it with gusto in Ellis Kerkhoven’s staging but too often Jonathan Hogue’s script is flat, his lyrics rarely boosted by his score mixing moody synth with bland ballads. The story puts the spotlight on Barb (Georgia McElwee) yet there are few barbs in the humour – instead we have hackneyed gags about horror cliches, random pop culture 80s references and a mild interrogation of the series’ (and the era’s) sexual politics.

Before its bloated recent episodes, Stranger Things was already self-aware – even the casting of the major adult roles were 80s references – and its curation of that decade’s gizmos, songs and fashions was done with an affection and humour that makes it tricky to mimic. The programme is itself a homage to 80s horror: with this affectionate parody frequently veering into tribute, it ends up as a homage to a homage.

Richard Marsh’s Yippee Ki Yay, a Die Hard spoof in rhyming couplets, managed to honour and mock the original while unpicking the reasons for its popularity. Stranger Sings! is well suited to the underground Vaults but this baggy, often oddly unadventurous musical needed more time in the lab.


Chris Wiegand

The GuardianTramp

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