Love, murder and tap-dancing direwolves set the stage for a musical parody Gerorge R. R. Martin might even approve.
“This is not TV. This is HBO.”
Actually, this is a musical based on an HBO television show, but as part of the opening number, the line set the tone for what was to come in Game of Thrones: The Musical, a musical theater parody of the HBO television drama series Game of Thrones. It includes everything one would expect from a musical rendition of the popular drama: Murder. Love. Betrayal. Direwolves. And lots and lots of characters. From a goth millennial Arya to poor bastard Jon Snow to the wino Cersei to the troubled blond Khaleesi, Game of Thrones: The Musical has fun poking fun at its source material and then some.
The show covers most of the events of the first season and if you’re familiar with the series (which you probably are, unless you’ve been living at The Wall) you’ll know it covers major events revolving around the political actions of Ned Stark, the comings and goings of his family in Winterfell, the coupling of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, and the sinful sibling rivalries of the Lannister family. The team behind the production includes director Steven Christopher Parker, producer Steven Brandon, musical director Erin Stegeman (who plays Cersei Lannister) and musical director Ace Marrerro (who plays Khal Drogo). The team’s dedication to the production shows in each carefully crafted number and tightly woven scene that combines multiple character subplots while keeping the show light, campy and outrageously funny.
The script follows its character nuances and storylines religiously but leaves plenty of room for interpretation. And while it borders on hammy at times, the cast goes ham in full force it’s commendable. There are two casts that perform the show and the night I attended featured the cast of House Targaryen. Milo Shearer and Andrea L. Rutherford led the Stark family as Ned and Catelyn respectively, kicking off the memorable “Hello from Winterfell” with sheer gusto, and setting the stage for the inevitable stakes that the Stark family must face – including but not limited to Arya (Meghan Modrovsksy) getting her goth groove back, Sansa (Katie Hotchkiss) winning the man of her dreams, Robb (Billy Finn), well, being Robb and Jon Snow (Zach Kanner) being the poorly misunderstood bastard. The Starks were the “main protagonists” of season one, or so the musical declares, so you can’t help but root for them here. But for those who know how that first season rolls, it’s hard not to think about what’s to come while watching the show.
And the characters never cease to remind us of future plot points, or that this is a parody of a TV show, either. This “song of nice satire” is meta like that. Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin (Jay Stephenson) is the narrator, there are countless mentions of Peter Dinklage’s Emmy wins and timely political references to The Wall. There are moments, though, when the jokes wear thin, as in the case of Dinklage’s Emmys or poor Jon Snow: the Starks can’t seem to stop yelling at him to STFU. He is indeed a bastard, but it’s hard to recall the television Starks being that cruel – or Snow being that sad! Perhaps it’s because we’re armed with the hindsight of Snow’s future, but, realistically, there are only so many times you can stand people yelling like that in a small-ish theater space.
Like the television series, the musical is an ensemble effort. Multiple players performed double or even triple duty, which serves as both a nod to the show’s insane number of characters and as a way to keep the cast efficient. Chuck McLane was a valuable player, juggling the roles of King Robert, Sam and Hodor effortlessly. His portrayal of Hodor is particularly scene-stealing, proving there are never enough ways to use the word “Hodor” in a sentence (especially if that’s the only word in said sentence).
The show’s main love story is perfectly embodied in the “Dothraki Love Song” performed by Kacey Spivey and Marrero, as Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, respectively. Their infamous wedding night scene is recreated in pure parody here. You might despise them on television but onstage the Lannisters make for a very fun crew: Randy Wade Kelley is inspired as a selfie-obsessed Joffrey (he also plays multiple parts as Bran Stark and Viserys Targaryen), Peter Berube makes for a fun musical Jamie, Stegeman is a deliciously cheeky Cersei (“Where’s my wine?”) and Brad Simanski is a perfect fit as Tyrion, a.k.a. everyone’s favorite character that can’t be killed.
Simanski takes part in a ballsy solo piece “You Can’t Kill Me,” which includes part tongue-in-cheek humor and part rap rhapsody. It’s a funny number, but it also highlights one of show’s missing ingredients: a little more diversity. It’s a problem inherent in the television show, but it’s quite unnerving to witness it onstage too, as when a stark-white Arya raps to what sounds like old school nineties beats while sporting a hipster crop top.
Or when the entire cast partakes in a gospel chorus-like number complete with light-up tambourines and call-and-responses. It just seems off-kilter and unnecessary for a musical fantasy show that is already really funny on its own merit. And the cast is far more interesting when they play to their strengths and play up their characters. When the Lannisters appear as a bro-ey 80s rock band complete with big hair, leather jackets, bandanas and dark eyeliner, not to mention Cersei in neon tights and a “Nasty Woman” tee, it’s hilariously on point. Other notable performances include the show-stopping “The Things I Do For Love,” and the feminist anthem “Stronger” performed by the women of Westeros.
It’s hard not to wish the show would include more recent storylines. It makes sense for it to feature the initial season, but the television series is approaching its seventh run. While we love us some Robb Stark, we’re kind of over Ned (RIP) and all we really want to see are the dragons. They made tap-dancing direwolves happen, so why not big, fiery dragons too? (There’s a reason it says “big.”)
Politics aside, Game of Thrones: The Musical is all that and a bag of Hodor. It will have you laughing faster than you can say, “Winter is coming.” I could go on but, seriously, if you’re aching for some GOT in your life and can’t wait until the show is back on screen, now is the chance to relive TV’s darkest, sexiest, most dragon-filled show yet on the musical stage. Did I mention there’s wine? Cersei would approve.
Game of Thrones: The Musical is now playing at the Macha Theater in West(eros) Hollywood in Los Angeles. For more information visit: www.gotthemusical.com.