Chris Critelli and company in
The New Hopeville Comics
(© Jacquelyn Terhar)
Chris Critelli and company in
The New Hopeville Comics
(© Jacquelyn Terhar)
The line between showcase and vanity production blurs badly in The New Hopeville Comics, an ineffectual superhero musical currently running at The Chernuchin Theatre.

The plot is part-parody, part-post modern comic. The citizens of New Hopeville rely on Perfect Man (Chris Critelli) to keep them safe from criminals, including the terrible triumvirate Sex (Terren Wooten Clarke), Drugs (Carl Conway Maguire), and, of course, Rockenroll (John Bennett). But when his ladylove Molly (Sarah Hayes Donnell) breaks his heart because she herself is craving some lady-love, Perfect Man is pushed out by the hedonistic baddies and New Hopeville suffers the consequences.

The show's opening moments are about as breezy as the story might suggest. Although you couldn't accuse it of originality, a fresh-faced industriousness makes it all pretty pleasant -- until the light-headed, light-hearted lark takes a turn for darker territory and finds itself rather cruelly exposed as broad, sophomoric, and painfully self-indulgent. (Among its other flaws, this is a 75-minute musical bloated to twice that length.) Both the romantic and superhero plots lack clarity and logic. By the time we reach the end, there's nothing to follow but a trail of inside jokes.

Still, Nate Weida's score, while generally undistinguished, manages a few decent melodies, and music director Tim Matheson leads a tight five-person band and a cast that sings extraordinarily well as a unit. Individual standouts include Critelli who makes a pretty choirboy sound, and Christine Dwyer, a rangy soprano cast as Perfect Man's romantic rival. In the role of everyone's dweeby best friend, sparkplug Aaron Phillips seems to be auditioning for American Idol.

Curiously, it seems a couple of the most charismatic performers (Shira Kobren and Terra Mackintosh) are in chorus roles, but perhaps that's in keeping with a production that doesn't know its own strengths.