Soon I Will Be Invincible; Queen Amarantha
Playwright ( Invincible ): Christopher M. Walsh, Christopher Kriz ( music/lyrics ). At: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood. Tickets: 773-761-4477; www.lifelinetheatre.com; $40. Runs through: July 19
Playwright ( Amarantha ): Charles Busch. At: Otherworld Theatre at City Lit, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/82655; $20. Runs through: June 28
Fantasy adventure has flourished in Chicago from the Organic Theater's early off-Loop sci-fi classic WARP! to more recent examples from the House Theatre of Chicago and even The Hypocrites' Greek mash-up, All Our Tragic.
Lifeline Theatre's world-premiere superhero musical, Soon I Will Be Invincible, attempts to follow suit but encounters significant obstacles, as does the newer, smaller Otherworld Theatre Company with the Chicago premiere of Charles Busch's Queen Amarantha. Although vastly different in style, both shows put forth female heroes and share one major problem in common: toooooooo much story!
Soon I Will Be Invincible is based on the contemporary novel by Austin Grossman, kinda-sorta a narrative ( vs. visual ) graphic novel with tongue-in-cheek wit, much of which is preserved in Christopher M. Walsh's adaptation. It concerns a league of superheroes in the near-future saving the world from mad scientist Dr. Impossible ( Phil Timberlake ). It gives us the backstories of all eight superheroes and the bad Doc when it really should focus on the newbie superhero, Fatale ( Christina Hall ), and her search for ( a ) her place in the world and ( b ) the truth of her origins. Her story is hopelessly lost in the tangle of the other stories.
In addition, Soon I Will Be Invincible ( the villain's mantra, FYI ) is a play with songs, instead of being a true musical. Absolutely all crucial info is delivered through lengthy dialogue scenes, and none of it through music. Only two or three of the 18 songs advance the plot, the majority being short bursts of emotion from the characters. Christopher Kriz's score is pleasant rock/pop with occasional jazz/blues tinges, but hardly remarkable or varied. It's well-sung, especially in the richly-harmonized ensemble numbers, but the songs mostly are add-ons rather than integral to the storytelling. Alan Donahue's scenic/projection designs are the basis of an excellent physical production.
Queen Amarantha was written by Charles Busch to star himself in the title role. Otherworld Theatre Company, however, casts a woman ( Moira Begale ) as Amarantha, and either is unaware of Busch's performing style or intentionally ignores it. Busch's works, even when serious, are parodies of familiar literary or ( more particularly ) cinematic genres. This one is a pseudo-medieval romance in which young the queen would rather dress as a boy and live/love freely without fully committing either to a relationship or her royal duties, until her kingdom is in peril.
On the page, Queen Amarantha is unexceptional costume romance with shallow characters. The style is in the playing: the genderfuck of drag romance, the knowing wink, the arch line reading, the double-take, the exaggerations of romance and villainy. All of these go missing in Otherworld's production, which is deadly earnest without a bit of comedy. The result is ponderous and way too long. Clearly produced on a budget, Queen Amarantha nonetheless sports engaging costume/armor designs ( Elise Leonhardt, Vanessa Walilko ) and Kai Young's respectable stage combat.