by Karl Gallagher

When I saw the announcement of “Firefly: the Musical” I immediately wanted to go see it. Once I got there I had qualms–was this going to be good entertainment or just an attempt to take advantage of Browncoats’ willingness to throw money at anything with the word Firefly on it? When the cast finished singing the theme song those qualms were gone.

The Highball is more bar than theater, but a corner of it was curtained off for the show. The audience all had a good view of the stage. I didn’t notice any problems with the acoustics but can’t speak for the back corners. There was minimal scenery. The actors were as likely to use mime as to pull out a table for a scene.

The pre-show was a series of videos including songs from other Whedon works (Dr. Horrible and “Once More With Feeling”) and fan vids. The projector also had some use during the play. A starfield was projected for all the bridge scenes and a clip of the river ambush opened the show.

The Firefly actors are a tough example to live up to but our local heroes did well. Stephen Robinson (Wash) and Jason Vines (Jayne) stole most of their scenes. Robinson’s comic timing gave us a classic showstopper–the audience was laughing so hard at an off-hand wink that another actor was frozen, waiting for us to quiet down so she could say her line. Michael Thomas (Mal) had the toughest role–stepping into the shoes of an actor talented enough to anchor a multi-year prime time series isn’t easy–but he held the stage and kept us engaged with the story. Linsey Reeves (Inara) did a smooth job of showing a professional liar telling clumsy lies. Adam Mengesha (Book) solidly laid down the law for our captain. Sabrina Jones (Saffron) got to display her range from naive country girl to seductress to cold professional.

The crew introduced themselves singing the theme song together. The settlers’ celebration was the setting for Mal and Inara’s “I Won’t Let You In” duet (a lovely song reprised at the end). That was the saddest of the songs as the couple explained their reasons for rejecting love. Jayne’s “Guns and Women” was hilarious as our favorite thug dithered over which he was more attracted to. Saffron steamed up the stage with “Let Me Have My Wedding Night.” Then we switched to vaudville as Wash sang “When Did This Stop Being Funny?” and got great laughs with some really bad jokes. Inara had another duet with Saffron, flirting in the ways “Only a Woman Can See.” The action climax was Jayne saving the day with “One Shot”–a duet with Kaylee who felt she only had one shot with Simon. The soundtrack will be coming out on CD, including an additional song: “Special Hell.”

On top of the songs the script added some grace notes to the original, usually going for laughs. Kaylee vamped on Simon in the background when the script allowed (and then in the foreground during the climactic “One Shot” song). The deleted scene from the episode was included, giving Simon and River their best moments in the show.

This is not a good way to introduce your musical-loving friend to Firefly. The play assumes you’ve seen the episode. This let them save time and effort by not explaining setting changes or having scenery to show which room they’re in. As much as I’d like better visuals this is a small scale production. A $5 ticket doesn’t get me a Serenity marionette sailing across the stage. For someone who hasn’t seen the show they’re going to be very confused by moments such as the carrion house crew walking on stage and making some cryptic remarks. Rewriting the scenes to provide context to that and other bits wouldn’t be that hard–but there’s probably not enough newbies in the audience to justify spending the time.

“Firefly: The Musical” was a wonderful show, well worth driving for hours. We were apparently the fans who’d come the farthest to see it so far (Fort Worth to Austin). Given that they’ve had to double the run of the show to deal with demand someone will probably beat that. With luck the Institution Theater will be inspired to tackle another episode. “The Message” and “Objects In Space” would work well in their format (“Out of Gas” would be great but harder to translate).

Strongly recommended for all Browncoats.

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  • Austin Improv