Stranger Sings is a new parody musical of the hit Netflix binge Stranger Things. With book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Hogue, the show started out as a concert production at 54 Below in New York before graduating to The Players Theatre Off-Broadway. Once there, it became an instant cult hit, winning a plethora of Broadway World awards, including Best New Musical and audience returning for multiple trips to the Upside Down. Stranger Sings premiered in the UK at The Vaults in late 2022 where it sold out and received multiple four and five-star reviews. Now, the Hawkins gang is back as Stranger Sings opens at the Southwark Playhouse before embarking on a UK Tour. Join all your favourite characters as they sing, dance and fight the dancing demogorgan in this summer’s side-splitting hit.
Take a trip with your favourite gang on a night of indulgent pop culture references, heavy synth, poor parenting, dancing demogorgons and maybe – just maybe – you might find #justiceforBarb along the way. For this UK production, Ellis Kerkhoven directs Anna Amelia as Nancy/Eleven/Robin, Jessie Jae Davis as Lucas/Demogorgon, Alfie Doohan as Steve/Jonathan/Dr Brenner, Howard Jenkins as Jim Hopper, Philippa Leadbetter as Barb, Verity Power as Joyce/Will (the puppet), William Shackleton as Dustin Henderson, Elliott Wooster as Mike with Ally Kennard and Shannon Bourne as Swings.
One of Stranger Sing’s multiple strengths is its cast and as small casts go, this one works hard! Playing multiple roles, the ensemble cast switch costumes and characters in the blink of an eye in this fast-paced relentless laugh-a-minute joy ride. Each actor embodies their characters with a knowing wink, relishing in each part and working together to immerse the audience in the totally serious but also completely absurd world of the show.
Anna Amelia gives a fun performance as Nancy and her duet Friends Forever with Philippa Leadbetter’s Barb was an Act One bop. She then morphed into Elven, giving a commanding performance and her Final (dance) Battle was a manic highlight. Verity Power, as the dual characters of Joyce and her son Will, was hilarious. As chain-smoking Joyce, Power managed to capture Winona Ryder’s brilliant (if not unhinged) presence and raised the roof in a brilliant song where she was joined by characters from Winona’s previous films. As Will (performed via puppet), Power was a one-woman Avenue Q. From exploring the Upside Down, making new demogoron friends to entertaining himself with a Rainbow Connection-inspired song, Power gave another exceptional performance. As Jim Hopper, Howard Jenkins was perfectly cast. With a knowing wink, Jenkins gave a strong performance throughout as he attempted to find Will, get rid of the Demogorgon and fall in love (but not until Season Two). Alfie Doohan gave an uproarious performance as Steve (complete with hair), Jonathan (complete with camera) and Dr Brenner (complete with crazy scientist father syndrome). With a strong vocal in his duets with Anna Amelia’s Nancy and William Shackleton’s Dustin, Doohan performed with the confident ease needed to carry off these characters with flare. As Dustin Henderson, William Shackleton was excellent. Complete with lisp, Shackleton embodied the fan favourite in a performance that was perfectly pitched. Jessie Jae Davis was a fun Lucas and her (extremely camp) dancing demogorgon was the surprise highlight of the evening. As #justiceforBarb trended during the first season of Stranger Things, anyone playing this character had big (I’m assuming, orthopedic) shoes to fill and Philippa Leadbetter ate it up! From her purposefully awkward reprise of Friends Forever (where she sang the harmony line alone), to her sexual awakening with the demogorgon (yes, you read that right), through to her stunning vocal on Barb’s Turn in Act Two, Leadbetter shone. Leadbetter took us through Barb’s story with a confident ease that had the audience in fits of laughter throughout.
UK Tours often have varying degrees of success when it comes to set, however Justin William’s set design for Stranger Sings is absolutely fantastic. With 80s easter eggs galore, his light-up versatile set transforms from Joyce’s fairy light house, to the woods, to the Upside Down with a polished and inventive flare. Lucinda Lawrence’s choreography is character driven and a lot of fun while Clancy Flynn’s lighting helps to transport the audience. Rich Carter’s sound design seemed to be mixed through two overhead speakers, facing the audience. Both the music and vocals came through these speakers and while the dialogue was audible, I found I was missing a lot of the lyrics and wondered if a different configuration would have remedied this. The lyrics of Stranger Sings are extremely witty with a lot of inside jokes (the cast recording can be found on streaming services), so it was a shame to miss some of Jonathan Hogue’s upbeat score and lyrics.
Stranger Sings at the Southwark Playhouse is an uproarious night out. So Hop(per) on your bike, grab a transmitter radio, join the Hawkins gang and get your tickets while Stranger Sings is still in London. Just remember… No mouthbreathers allowed!
Reviewed by Stuart James