An atheist walks into a Catholic-themed musical . . . Am I remembering this joke correctly? What is a gal to anticipate from a show about a boy named Pope whose only dream in life is to be the Pope? Well, if the show is written by Justin Moran (The Spidey Project) and produced by LA-based theatre company Theatre Unleashed, you should only expect hilarity to ensue.
Last week, I had the great fortune to attend a performance of the West Coast premiere of POPE! An Epic Musical, which was written by New York-based Moran and with music by Christopher Pappas. For anyone unfamiliar with Moran’s previous work, he was the driving force behind the musical parody, The Spidey Project, which was created as a response to the $65 million Broadway flop that was Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. Written, rehearsed, produced, and performed in 30 days on a $0 budget, the witty and hysterical show overwhelming demonstrated to theatergoers that large price tags were not required to generate quality theatre. Having ably guided Moran’s web-slinging musical to SoCal audiences in 2012, Theatre Unleashed has now ushered in the playwright’s POPE! An Epic Musical (under the direction of Gregory Crafts) with the same skillful dedication and enthusiasm.
The musical follows a starry-eyed boy named Pope who devotes his life to (and achieves!) the goal of becoming Pope. While the masses (See what I did there? I promise to stop with the puns.) adore him and peace and prosperity abound, a tyrannical Archbishop secretly causes a media frenzy that tears young Pope from his dream job, banishing him from the Vatican and leaving him broken and hopeless. As Pope questions his purpose in life, the Archbishop seizes the papacy with ruthless abandon, and cyborg altar boys enforce Novinas (or death!) throughout the world, musical fun ensues for both the audience and its cast.
Theatre Unleashed’s performance takes place in The Belfry Stage’s Upstairs Theatre in North Hollywood, CA, within a black box theatre that provides ample room for the dastardly Archbishop and his minion Cardinal to tango, a gaggle of priests and nuns form their own kickline, and the talented accompanist to lead the cast in rousing musical number after rousing musical number.
The cast of POPE! clearly has a fantastic time performing the material, as Moran’s witty, tongue-firmly-in-cheek dialogue and lyrics provide a great platform from which to perform. The sheer energy of the performers as an ensemble is palpable, as each new musical number seems to enliven their spirits, encouraging them to dive deeper into their characters while the audience joins in on the fun. While the entire cast is commendable, a number of standout performances include Shawn Cahill as the Archbishop, bearing a strong resemblance to the swagger and charm of Jeremy Irons’ Scar from The Lion King, as well as R. Benito Cardenas’ Cardinal Duncan, the adorably clueless yet ever-enthusiastic sidekick to the Archbishop. In addition, Sammi Lappin’s Mary Elizabeth is a powerhouse player both comically and vocally, and Jude Evans’ myriad of roles and dialects are a sight to behold. Lastly, hats off to the titular lead, Jase Lindgren, as playing the straight man to the entire ensemble’s off-the-wall zaniness is no easy feat.
I very highly recommend seeing Theatre Unleashed’s POPE! An Epic Musical as soon as you can! The show will run through November 17th, with performances on Monday and Saturday evenings (at 8 p.m.) and Sundays (at 7 p.m.). Tickets are $15 each and are available online or at the door. Please note that the theatre is located upstairs, and, unfortunately, it is not wheelchair accessible. Be sure to visit the Theatre Unleashed website for further details.