Theater Review: The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Stranger Things at Rockwell Table & Stage

UMPO Stranger Things-Garrett Clayton Damon Gravina Sterling Sulieman
Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

In its latest iteration, the UMPO (Unauthorized Musical Parody Of) Series is taking on season one of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things and the results are, as usual, hilarious. Written by Kate Pazakis, creator and Executive Producer of the UMPO Series, this show adds a new twist to the usual format, a “choose your own adventure” element where each audience gets to decide the outcome of multiple storylines by either rolling a die or by simply picking between two options.

UMPO Stranger Things-Damon Gravina Lana McKissack Emma Hunton
Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

Stranger Things is a perfect choice for this musical parody treatment because the 80s setting provides plenty of song inspiration. Directed by Nathan Moore with musical direction by Gregory Nabours, the music selections include hits by David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Donna Summer, and Radiohead. As usual, the plot is treated with the signature UMPO mix of celebrating the source material while poking fun at the occasional ridiculousness of it.

UMPO Stranger Things-Emma Hunton as Joyce
Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

Of course, the campy, nostalgic plot of Stranger Things offers plenty of fertile ground for jokes. Season one follows four young boys in Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s. When one goes missing under mysterious circumstances, his friends and family end up embroiled in a series of supernatural events all centered around a young girl named Eleven who has psychokinetic abilities and seemingly inexplicable knowledge of the missing boy’s whereabouts. In the show, the boys play the game Dungeons and Dragons, and that becomes a key and fitting element in the parody when the dice rolls are incorporated into the structure.

UMPO Stranger Things-Garrett Clayton and Lana McKissack
Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

Rockwell Table & Stage is a cabaret venue where patrons eat and drink as the production takes place around them, and every seat in the house offers a slightly different experience. The space is perfectly decked out for the occasion, with Joyce Byers’s signature Christmas light wall and an extra “B” added to the end of a neon “bar” sign to signify where the character of Barb hangs out, often drinking wine, after she is sidelined extremely early on, just like in the TV series. One of the best details is that Will Byers, the missing boy who is crucial to the plot despite hardly being present, is played by a puppet.

UMPO Stranger Things-The Boys and Eleven
Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

As usual, the cast is top notch, embracing the camp and the immersive style of the production while singing their hearts out. As Joyce, UMPO and Broadway veteran Emma Hunton possesses the most impressive voice of the bunch, belting out Blondie’s “Call Me” while imitating Winona Ryder’s quirks in the role perfectly. Her complicated relationship with Hopper (Trent Mills) is used as a perfect opportunity to make timely references to the topics of harassment and consent, which drew a large cheer from the audience.

UMPO Stranger Things- Eric Petersen Garrett Clayton Damon Gravina Sterling Sulieman
Photo Credit: Bryan Carpender

Of course, the show would be nothing without Eleven (Lana McKissack), Mike (Damon Gravina), Lucas (Sterling Sulieman), and Dustin (Garrett Clayton, who hilariously pulls double duty also playing bad boy Steve Harrington), all of whom are hilariously entertaining. The boys get to show off some moves to the Dungeons & Dragons song, while Eleven gets an interpretive dance number to “Maniac” by Michael Sembello. Some of the show’s funniest moments belong to Mike’s older sister Nancy (Amanda Kruger), her friend Barb (Kyra Selman), Will’s older brother Jonathan (Owain Rhys-Davies), and Steve. Nancy and Steve belt out “Almost Paradise” while Barb and Nancy duet on “Time After Time,” playing into the teenage melodrama. One of the highlights of the evening is when Eleven, Mike, and Joyce join forces on “Creep” by Radiohead, Joyce wide-eyed and clutching her signature ball of Christmas lights.

As usual, loyal followers of the UMPO Series will recognize most members of the cast from previous shows, which is part of the fun of coming back each time. Even though Halloween has now passed, The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Stranger Things is a great way to celebrate this festive season, and with this new format, you could return for multiple viewings and see a slightly different show every time, something you cannot get from yet another Netflix rewatch.

The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Stranger Things runs through December 2nd at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with an afternoon brunch show on Sundays. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased here. The running time is two hours, including one intermission. Please note that Rockwell policy also requires a 2 item minimum purchase of food and/or drinks per person, and these items can be enjoyed during the performance. UMPO shows are often double cast, so the performers mentioned in this review will not appear on all dates. For more information about this show and upcoming shows, follow @umposeries on social media.

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