Bob. Middle-aged, trying-too-hard-to-make-a-good-impression Bob. He wanders through darkened corridors, his only company a flickering flashlight to guide the way and the fear of impending doom breathing down his neck. Joyce and Jim Hopper plead for him to be careful through his walkie-talkie, but he presses on. “Go,” he chants to himself, over and over. He turns a corner and heads down another hallway, into the blackness. His voice crescendos, then cuts off abruptly after a deafening growl from a demonic Demodog from the Upside-Down. Bob, middle-aged, trying-too-hard-to-make-a-good-impression Bob… is gone. Stranger Things
Stranger Things 2: The Musical Tribute, now playing at the Broadwater during Hollywood Fringe Festival, is a love letter to Season 2 of the enormously popular Netflix series. I strongly suggest watching it before seeing the live stage production, since it will make it easier to follow the performance, and help guests appreciate how well it captures the essence of the series. But simplifying an entire season of episodes into an 85-minute musical tribute requires some heavy streamlining, and so only the core threads are featured. Gone or severely trimmed are the side plots involving Dustin and Dart (my favorite), Jonathan Byers’ arc, and Kali and her band of outcasts (no one’s favorite). It has been a while since I watched Stranger Things, but the musical is a fantastic refresher leading up to Season 3.
As attendees sit in the audience and watch the enormously talented cast of Stranger Things 2 shine onstage – each taking on several characters – we bear witness to a moving tribute. There have been many performances based on Stranger Things since its arrival on Netflix. But this version, a straight tribute/recap devoid of satire or parody (but definitely not lacking in humor), is not one I’ve had the privilege of seeing before. Staged in a black box theater, the actors perform short scenes in between the main course of brand-new, ‘80s-inspired musical numbers that would fit right at home on a Cyndi Lauper or Huey Lewis album. With heavy synth and endlessly catchy melodies, the songs capture the nostalgia and emotional points in the show. I honestly wish they had a cast-recorded album available for purchase.
The cast of Stranger Things 2 is mind-blowingly talented. From quick changes into different and distinct characters, sharp choreography, and stellar vocals, each actor is able to deftly take on a beloved character. Jacqueline Emerson (Eleven/Nancy) and Callie Ott (Max, Joyce, Kali) are fantastic singers; Zach Zagoria (Billy) excels in his menacing choreography and various character changes; Sylvia Kolb (Will/Jonathan) is utterly spot-on as Will, including her shy speaking voice and wide-eyed stare; Robert Manion (Steve/Mike) and Daniel Bellusci (Dustin/Bob) charm the pants off the audience during their interactions as Steve and Dustin; and Tym Brown’s (Lucas/Hopper) vocal and emotional dynamics are off the charts.
In this pared-down, intimate iteration of Stranger Things, I must admit that I missed the on-stage presence of the Demogorgons. However, I think it is a wise decision to keep the creatures off-stage, the vicious threats only appearing in our imaginations and aural cues, lest they appear too cheesy or venture into parody territory. Without the benefit of CGI or hyper-realistic costumes, the Demogorgons remain a threat just outside our periphery; maybe they’re right behind us, breathing down our necks this time.
Stranger Things 2: The Musical Tribute is a phenomenal production put on by clear fans of the show. The actors never overdo the characters we’ve come to know and love; instead, they present their own, lived-in versions that we can also root for. The big narrative moments are hit on, in addition to some new, smaller and emotional moments that really add to the overall characters. Stranger Things 2 doesn’t need to be a big-budget, special-effects driven show; it is a nuanced and sweet reminder of the series at large.
Find out more information on Stranger Things 2: The Musical Tribute and buy tickets here. Keep up to date with all of our Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019 coverage here. Follow our Event Guide for more news and reviews throughout the year.
Haunting is a resource for immersive theater and horror fans in Los Angeles and across the world, promoting art and community. Want to help us reach even more people, and get some cool perks and experiences? For as little as $1 a month, you can join our Patreon, and help us keep bringing content to life.