From the minute I sat down and heard the first soaring lyrics of Hero: the Musical at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, I knew I would have to see this rousing production more than once. Immediately reminiscent of Jonathan Larsen’s musical, Rent, a Broadway sensation and the slightly less well known Tick, Tick, Boom, which ultimately toured internationally, I predict a similar trajectory for Hero. We have a hit on our hands; and you have one more weekend to catch this production before it closes!
In response to my gushing about his show, Thielen, creator of the book and concept, replied that indeed he hoped to follow the path of Rent. “That would be swell,” he said modestly. Thus far, in addition to the current month-long run in Sarasota, the show played during the summer of 2012 in Chicago at the Marriot Theater in Lincolnshire, where it won two Joseph Jefferson awards, including best new musical. In both places, the creators garnered feedback and have been continously tweaking the production. There have been substantial but subtle changes between the first and second times I saw the show, primarily related to character development.
Hero is the story of a father, Al (Don Foster) and son, Hero Butowski (Brian Sears) who run a comic book store, a perfect hideaway for lost souls searching for the meaning of life in graphic tales of superheroes. They are both stuck in a holding pattern, because of a tragedy that took place a decade earlier. Things begin to change when a lost love, Jane Foster (Laurie Veldheer) returns to town seeking a new start. Sears and Veldheer have a sweet chemistry; and their voices weave together in a lovely way.
Now that I have had the benefit of seeing the show twice, the beautiful lyrics are firmly implanted in my mind. I have been singing them quietly to myself for days. Among the most memorable was “You’re My Kryptonite,” a quirky, charming love song, in the style Rodgers and Hammerstein music and lyrics.
The show is really about Hero finding the “strength to carry on.” The creators struggled with making us connect with a person who cannot truly connect with himself. In the graphic novel Hero creates about his friends and family, he initially excludes himself from the story.
The artistic conflict the creators of Hero had in developing the show mirrors the struggle at the center of the story. Thielen said, “We locked in with all the other characters early on. Hero is the toughest one to nail down. [We are asking the audience] to invest in the lead character, who cannot invest in his own life.” Therefore, the changes they made in the production were designed to make Hero “an active participant in his life.” In the latest version, they wanted to strengthen the arc of the storyline to take you on the journey of Hero’s self-discovery.
This week, Thielen and Michael Mahler, the composer and lyricist, will meet with their commercial producers. Thielen said, “In this business, you never know, but I’m confident the show will have another life.”
Hero has had audiences on their feet night after night. As I nudged him about the show’s Broadway prospects, Thielen said, “We have a show; we don’t have $8 million dollars.” Surely, given that the Great White Way seems bereft of new and modern musicals in a sea of revivals, the chances for Hero are quite strong. Thielen said, “It is a show that people want to see.”
If you enjoy feel-good musicals with loveable characters, outstanding actors, and hummable songs, Hero is the show for you. Hero runs through Sunday at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. For more information, go to www.asolo.org.