Book and Lyrics: Jim Burrows
Music: Winston Eade
There’s a strong undercurrent of nerd culture that gets brought to the surface every so often. It’s the sci-fi obsession hinted at by major characters in TV shows, it’s the D&D player handbooks on the table in films. And it’s the creation of a bouncy, original musical dedicated to a philosophical musing about the world Super Mario inhabits.
The musical explores what happens when Mario is the one who gets kidnapped by Bowser and Princess Peach is the one to save him. She’s helped by the usual line up of Mario’s Mushroom World friends – Yoshi, Toad, Luigi – and faces off against the traditional threats of Bowser, Donkey Kong and Kammy Koopa. Alongside the regular questing action fans of Mario will want, there’s also an unexpected twist that could see the gang succeed in more than just their current mission.
It’s a great concept – based on the general idea that everyone should have the opportunity to be Player One in their own game. There are themes of empowerment, of ambition, of the greater good and a heartening romance. Dangerously, however, it also makes side quests look extremely fun – not always the real case with Mario games.
The execution, however, is not great. It feels like Peach should be the centre of attention but is overshadowed by the whirl of action and the other characters (though Jessica Lim as the Princess has a gorgeous singing voice and smashes her big solos). While it’s a lovely inclusion, and never has ganging up on an enemy to beat him senseless seemed so romantic, the love story between Yoshi and Toad comes out of nowhere and feels disconnected to the rest. Ensemble singing and choreography takes a while to bed in with a few ragged edges in the first couple of songs. Even set design is off target – there’s an irritating wooden door frame sitting right in front of half the audience for half the show which creates a pointless obstruction.
The big philosophical point comes through strongly though. Via a fine performance by Kieran Sims (who also does a great Donkey Kong) we begin to wonder if he’s not just misunderstood rather than evil, and we’re led to question big ideas like should we really accept our roles as written by fate or strive for something more. Musically it’s fine – the songs and styling don’t really jump out, but they’re carried by moments of real creative delight from Winston Eades’ composition that takes the game music and turns it into something special for this performance.
At just over an hour, it’s timed really well. It’s genuinely quite fun, and while not the best musical out there it feels perfect for an audience who knows the characters and wants to indulge its nerdy side a little in a new setting.
Runs until 17 September 2021