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The New Hopeville Comics

Presented by Commander Squish Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Harry DeJur Playhouse at Henry Street Settlement, 466 Grand St., NYC., Aug. 10-17.

The timeless good vs. evil of comic books comes to giddy yet bewildering life in "The New Hopeville Comics," more proof that anything film—say, "Spider-Man"—can do, a musical can do, but with craftsmanship lacking, will too often do badly.

With book, music, and lyrics by Nate Weida, the work proves another point: No matter how tuneful the score or powerhouse the pipes, there's no substitute for solid construction.

The plot about an Artist (Josh Tyson) grieving over his girlfriend and retreating into pencil sketches is fine, but pencil-thin. His first creation, Perfect Man (Jason Karn) is pitted against a terrorizing triumvirate—sex-obsessed Sex (Boise Holmes), snorty stoner Drugs (author Weida), and rhythmically challenged Rockenroll (Tristan Yonce)—and losing. Here Weida presents a subversive parody that works.

Set in Hopeville, a sleepy idyll not unlike the world of "Pleasantville," Weida's more serious plotline depicts the townspeople learning that they, not Perfect Man, must save the day. A more serious conceit needs serious development, but the characters, Looney Tunes refugees, lack sufficient depth to carry it forth.

And when Weida has the Artist "create" a love story between Molly (Anne-Caitlin Donohue) and April Showers (Megan Lewis), the overall credulity is strained. If the Artist's girlfriend left him—we never know why—why romanticize with a homosexual twist?

Here, ironically, Weida unleashes his best work, a series of power ballads—"April, I've Got a Secret," "Tragic Lovers Duet," "I Don't Need Rescuing," and "Wanting Molly"—that are instantly memorable. That both women have astounding voices helps.

Director Steve Royal uses the game, plucky, versatile cast—including J. Stuart Spencer, Kelly Krepelka, Dalmar Montgomery, Fred Rice, Pauline Cobrda, Lianna Maier, Meredith Leigh Covington, Erin Maloney, Brett Parnell, Allen M. Rogers, Aaron Phillips, and Carrie Plew—dexterously, often building numbers that are mediocre on paper and showcasing them as faux showstoppers. That's what I call craft.

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