Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Hero: The Musical
Asolo Repertory Theater

Matthew Mueller, Brian Sears and Cast
Asolo Rep is presenting Hero: The Musical, a charming musical with a book and concept by Aaron Thielen and music and lyrics by Michael Mahler. Hero had its first production two years ago at the Marriott Theater in Chicago, and the authors have been continuously working on it since then, including major reworking during this run.

The story revolves around Hero Batowski, in his late 20s and stuck in his life. He had dreamed of being a graphic novel illustrator, but all of his most individual work is now tucked safely away. The setting is listed as Milwaukee circa 2009, but to my mind the musical styles, costumes and general tone feel like late 1980s or early 1990s when comic book collecting and their hold on young people was at its zenith.

The score is one of the great strengths of this musical, along with its very likable characters. There is a post-Sondheim style in the way the songs are developed, especially the use of parallel and conflicting emotional palettes. I like how the songs are a major source of character development and I'm impressed by the interesting images in the lyric writing. With all that said, I think that a major musical theater arranger such as Michael Starobin or Jonathan Tunick could help find a deeper arc in the music that is currently missing. The songs simply do not explode on the stage the way the best theater music does, although several songs such as "Phone Booth" and "That's My Kryptonite" try to.

Brian Sears is giving a Tony worthy performance as Hero, gawky and unsure of himself in the early going and then gaining confidence and realizing his manhood. Opposite him, Laurie Veldheer is a charmer as Jane Foster, the girl he lost and regains. Matthew Mueller and Dara Cameron are lively as secondary couple Kirk and Susan. The emotional center of the entire piece is Don Forston as Al Batowski, Hero's father. He presents us with a strong, proud man who has weaknesses as well. So strong was the audience's connection to the character at the performance I attended, that an important plot point in act two elicited a gasp. Owen Teague as 14-year-old Nate is sassy and loveable. The entire cast, including the ensemble, sing very well, making lyrics understandable.

The physical production, scenic design by Scott Davis and direction and choreography by David H. Bell, could not be better. The major locations—the Batowski home, Al's Comic Book Shop, the roof outside Hero's bedroom—are built on a large revolving stage. The opening sequence, "My Superhero Life," is brilliantly staged as is the entire show. Costumes by Ana Kuzmanic are a bit confusing as they could be setting the piece 20 years earlier than what the authors specified, but are effective. Lighting design by Jesse Klug and sound design by Kevin Kennedy make positive contributions to the whole. Projection and video design by Aaron Rhyne is outstanding, at times allowing us directly into Hero's head. Leading a five-piece band is composer Michael Mahler.

The greatest asset of Hero: The Musical is its likability! With just a little tweaking, it could be Broadway bound.

Asolo Repertory Theater presents Hero: The Musical through June 1, 2014, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit

Cast (in order of Appearance)
Al Batowski: Don Forston*
Hero Batowski: Brian Sears*
Ted/Ensemble: Ian Paul Custer*
Kyle/Ensemble: Norm Boucher*
Dr. Watson/Ensemble: Brad Weinstock*
U.S. Postal Worker/Dolly/Emsemble: Samantha Eggers*
Ensemble: Chelsea Lovett*
Ensemble: Sean Martin
Nate: Owen Teague
Kirk: Matthew Mueller*
Jane Foster: Laurie Veldheer*
Susan Schmitty: Dara Cameron*
John Timmons: Jameson Cooper*+
*=Member of Actors Equity Association
+=Dance Captain

Conductor/Keyboard: Michael Mahler
Guitar/Keyboard: Matt Deitchman
Percussion: Jed Feder
Bass: Trevor Jones
Cello: Tahirah Wittington

Director/Choreography: David H. Bell
Orchestrations/Arrangements: Michael Mahler
Orchestrations/Music Direction: Ryan T. Nelson
Scenic Design: Scott Davis
Costume Design: Ana Kuzmanic
Lighting Design: Jesse Klug
Projection & Video Design: Aaron Rhyne
Projection Stage Manager: Kelly A. Borgia
Dramaturg: Lauryn E. Sasso

Photo: Gary M. Sweetman

--William S. Oser

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