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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Bubble Boy
2001 Satiric Movie Comedy Resurfaces as Musical

Also see Bob's review of True Story


Chris McCarrell and Gabriel Sloyer
In 1976, there was an earnest, award winning, made for television movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble featuring John Travolta, which was based on a true story of a teenager who was born with a genetic immune insufficiency and had to live in a sterilized plastic bubble. In 2001, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio wrote a loopy, cartoony, satiric screenplay for Bubble Boy, a raunchy, comic (and controversial) adaptation for Disney in which Jake Gyllenhaal starred. If, like myself, you have not seen it, you are not alone. Whatever its virtues (and it did have its supporters), that movie tanked at the box office.

Lo and behold in November 2013, riding the wave of their well regarded screenplays for the hugely successful Despicable Me animated films, Cinco Paul (book, music and lyrics) and Ken Daurio (book) and the fledgling American Theatre Group have brought to Rahway's Hamilton Stage, Bubble Boy, a cartoony, satiric new musical adaptation of the Paul-Daurio screenplay. It is a bit raunchy, but given its lighthearted approach and the latitude provided by today's standards, it is unlikely to offend secular sensibilities (I'd classify it PG-13). Some of the lyrics and dialogue are explicitly adult yet most theatergoers should find the musical Bubble Boy to be a small, likeable and lively, contemporary pop, fun-filled musical fantasy.

Teenager Jimmy Livingston was born with an immune deficiency and has to live his life in his bedroom in the California desert city of Palmdale in a fully enclosed sterilized plastic dome where his only knowledge of the world outside is conveyed to him by his bigoted and completely daft conservative mother. She tells Jimmy that there is only one magazine (Highlights) and only one television program in the world, that the world outside is evil and harmful, and that the stock market crash, bank failures and gays caused the Great Depression. Mrs. Livingston is also teaching him Creationism. And she reads him fairy tales that all end up similarly to her version of Rapunzel: " ... the prince climbed up Rapunzel's hair to the top of the tower and said, 'Come with me and we'll live happily ever after.' Then Rapunzel left her plastic bubble. And died. The end." Jimmy's father has been reduced to muteness by her terribleness.

As the musical begins, it is Mrs. Livingston's bubble that is about to burst. For, moving in next door to live with her relatives (she has been unable to get along with her stepfather), is Chloe, a not too bright, very attractive teenager. Although she usually hangs with "hot bad boys," Chloe becomes attracted to Jimmy which arouses Jimmy's libido and wins his heart. After Chloe accepts hot bad boy Mark's proposal to marry and goes off to Niagara Falls with him, Jimmy designs a portable version of his dome and heads off cross country to find her.

On the road, Jimmy has a number of encounters which include ones with a Latino motorcycle gang; a Hindu with a curry and ice cream wagon who deifies cows; and a group of Moonie-like cultists (the Bright and Shinnies) who seduce and abandon him. Trekking along in hot pursuit are Mr. and Mrs. Livingston.

Erin Maguire, portraying Mrs. Livingston, gets the funniest lines and lyrics throughout the show and delightfully nails each and every one of them. When the script has Mrs. Livingston acknowledge that her actions are over the top, Maguire gets a glint in her eye that makes it clear that she can't stop herself .

Chris McCarrell and Gerianne Perez sing well and perform ably as Jimmy and Chloe. The leads are supported by an ensemble of seven who play a combined two dozen roles, making the most of a script and score filled with vocal and comedic opportunities.

The set and projection design by Deb O is outstanding. Employing large full-stage-wide cartoon drawings of the various locations which are clear, stable, richly colored and of museum quality in their artistry, Deb O has created designs which fully implement director-choreographer Jen Wineman's approach to the material and are delightful to contemplate in and of themselves. Both Wineman's direction and the scenic production (which includes cartoon cut-outs as scenery and stage properties) perfectly illuminate the style of the writing.

The book by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio contains a full measure of witty dialogue and comic situations. Empathy with Jimmy and Chloe and inspiration from Jimmy's determination to fulfill his dream do not come across strongly. This may be the result of the shrill soundscape created by the considerable over-amplification of both the music and lyrics. Paul's humorous lyrics, while a bit blunt, are often quite funny. The lyrics make a sizable contribution to our pleasure. The music is appropriately lively.

Bubble Boy is a funny and lively musical that provides an easy to enjoy evening's entertainment. Its satiric, jaundiced view of small city conservatives notwithstanding, light and lighthearted entertainment is its principal aim and, for the most part, Bubble Boy hits its target. It should have particular appeal for young adults and teenagers and could have a bright future as a popular licensee for high school productions.

Bubble Boy continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday - Saturday 8 PM/ Matinees: Sunday 2 PM) through November 24 at American Theater Group at Hamilton Stage, 360 Hamilton Street, Rahway; online: ucpac.org; Box Office: 732-499-8226

Bubble Boy Book, Music and Lyrics by Cinco Paul, Book by Ken Daurio/ Directed and Choreographed by Jen Wineman

Cast
Little Jimmy/ Jimmy…………………………….......Chris McCarrell
Town Citizen/ Chloe…………………………………Gerianne Perez
Town Citizen/ Mr. Livingston/ Gil…………………Benjamin Howes
Mrs. Livingston…………………………………………..Erin Maguire
Town Citizen/ Slim/ Todd……………………………..Gabriel Sloyer
Town Citizen/ Shawn/ Shiny/ Biker/ Pushpahp..……Rachid Sabitri
Town Citizen/ Mark/ Bus Kiosk Guy/ Biker/ Sheriff…Marrick Smith
Town Citizen/ Lorraine/ Biker………………………Alex Grace Paul
Town Citizen/ Shiny Girl/ Saleslady/ Minister/ Biker….Anita Welch
Town Citizen/ Deputy/ Shiny/ Biker…………………...Alex Chester


Photo: Christina L. Wilson


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- Bob Rendell



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