Stranger Sings! at the Vaults
The Vaults – that sprawling space beneath London’s Waterloo Station – could not be a more fitting home for Hawkins. UK audiences are finally lured into the Upside-Down as Stranger Sings! lands this side of the pond. Jonathan Hogue’s musical parody of the Netflix monster hit follows an acclaimed Off-Broadway run.
This fun foray into the world of Stranger Things largely focuses on the events of the first season. For those who might have been living in an alternate dimension these past few years, schoolboy Will Byers is missing; his mother Joyce teams up with local police chief Hopper to search for him; meanwhile, a girl known only as Eleven has escaped a mysterious lab, from which a parallel world referred to as the Upside-Down can be accessed. In it lurk mysterious monsters known as demogorgons. Will’s friends assist in trying to find him, and are all met by a series of supernatural events. Keeping up?
While those unfamiliar with the show might still extract some laughs and 80s nostalgia, this is very much a love letter to the series. Fans will appreciate its poking fun at the abounding stereotypes and cliches – the opening number makes it clear that this will indeed be the chief focus of the musical. Such things as the lack of LGBTQ+ representation are also dissected, as are certain plot points and story devices that deviated or fizzled out.
In a genius move, Hogue also seeks to deliver what so many have been campaigning for since 2016: justice for Barb! The character takes a prominent role here, after being dragged to her apparent death and all but forgotten about in the series. Georgia McElwee is perfectly cast. Demonstrating excellent comic timing and hilarious, well-judged facial expressions, the actor also receives rapturous applause for her vocal delivery on her 11 O’clock number.
McElwee is in good company. She enjoys convincing chemistry with Anna Amelia’s Nancy, who in turn conjures comedy from her interactions with the characters of Steve and Jonathan. Both are effortlessly portrayed by Jonty Peach, who also offers a hilarious Papa. Amelia’s portrayal of Eleven transfixes the audience with some impressive dance moves – and she has the stare and facial expression of the show’s protagonist down to a T.
Joseph Riley excels as leader of the pack Mike, very well supported by William Shackleton’s endearing Dustin. Finton Flynn entertains as Lucas, as well as having a great deal of fun with his brief portrayal of Erica and baring some moves as a Thriller-dancing, sashaying and all-round fabulous demogorgon. What works so well here is that each cast member is permitted a chance to shine, show what they can do and have fun along the way.
The standout scene of the evening is without doubt Holly Sumpton’s nervous and neurotic Joyce entering full meltdown, as Winona Ryder (the character’s portrayer on the series) begins to inhabit her. Sumpton garners a great many well-deserved laughs throughout, and Joyce is a joy to watch. Will – referred to as the “token victim” – suitably takes the form of a puppet. Howard Jenkins as Hopper (forever being prevented from breaking into song by Joyce) completes a cohesive and impassioned cast.
Riding off the success of a current smash hit series could come over as a gimmicky means of making a quick buck, but that is far from the case here. While it could be edited down and perhaps do without an interval, Stranger Sings! knows exactly what it is: pure parody, over-the-top fun and a great evening of escapism.
Photo: Giulia Paratelli
Stranger Sings! is at the Vaults from 5th October until 15th January 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.