The words “You’ve never seen anything like this before” may sound cliché, but trust me, you have never seen anything like Sacred Fools’ West Coast Premiere of Natsu Onoda Power’s Astro Boy And The God Of Comics, a mind-boggling blend of fact and fantasy that weaves together human performers and live action with still-&-animated video projections, puppets, and most exciting of all, live cartooning by some skilled actors/pen-&-ink artists—all of which adds up to what is certain to be one of the summer’s most gigantic hits.
The play’s title suggests its reverse chronology. We first get to know the exploits of the boy known in Japan as 鉄腕アトム, or Tetsuwan Atomu, or Mighty Atom, before being introduced to Astro Boy’s creator about halfway through.
Astro Boy And The God Of Comics’ main title opening sequence is our first hint at the magic ahead, combining FX video and actors-with-Sharpies for a feat of live cartooning that not only earns oohs and aahs, it sets the fantastical tone of what’s ahead.
Then comes the first of Astro Boy’s dozen backwards-heading episodes, each told in its own unique style, with a live TV anchorwoman announcing our plucky young hero’s latest—and quite possibly last—exploit, one that has Tetsuwan Atom (Heather Schmidt) flying sunward to prevent Earth’s destruction, even if it means meeting his own.
We then head back in time to witness Astro Boy’s live-action laboratory birth, other sequences combining a dazzling a display of video techniques before Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka (West Liang) takes centerstage and we get to know the man behind the cartoon from death to birth.
Tezuka may be best known for his trademark beret, but under it stood a man deeply scarred by the WWII bombings he witnessed as a child. (A scene in which actors live-sketch a huge Guernica-like charcoal mural only to have it destroyed by a projected nuclear explosion is a stunner).
Regardless of the inspiration behind Astro Boy, Tezuka’s creation has gone on to inspire generation after generation of children with his battle against the forces of evil, whether in comic book form or as the star of his own animated TV series back in the 1960s.
Theater doesn’t get any more collaborative than Sacred Fools’ Astro Boy And The God Of Comics, from its brilliantly inspired director Jaime Robledo to live art director Aviva Pressman to scenic designer DeAnne Millais to lighting designer Matt Richter to costume designer Linda Muggeridge to sound designer Robledo to original music composer Ryan Johnson to prop designer Brandon Clark to projection animation designer Jim Pierce to stunt/fight choreographer Mike Mahaffey to suzuki trainer Joe Fria to projection video designer Anthony Backman to playwright Power’s own puppet design. (Can you say “It takes a village” … or in this case a village of Sacred Fools?)
And speaking of Sacred Fools, ensembles don’t get any more multitalented than actor-artists Zach Brown, Megumi Kabe, Anthony Li, Mandi Moss, Jaime Puckett, and Marz Richards, who not only bring to life a multitude of roles and but display high-speed sketch artistry that must be seen to be believed.
Leading man Liang adds an authentic, human face to the evening’s madcap magic and an equally terrific Schmidt delights as Tezuka’s spunky, evil-battling boy hero.
Additional program credits go to lead producer-technical supervisor Brian W. Wallis, assistant director Rebecca Larsen, and associate producers Shaunessy Quinn and Seamus Sullivan, and to understudies Gregory Guy Gorden, Lisa Anne Nicolai, Pressman, Erin Sanzo, and Scot Shamblin.
Heatherlynn Gonzalez is stage manager and Suze Campagna assistant stage manager.
Astro Boy And The God Of Comics brings to a close a banner year for Sacred Fools following their recent Stage Raw Awards-sweeping hits Taste and The Behavior Of Broadus.
You can expect to see lines around the corner for weeks and weeks to come as theater buffs, graphic novel lovers, manga fanatics, and Astro Boy fans far and near await this most thrilling of summer theatrical treats.
Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood.
June 20, 2015
Photos: Jessica Sherman Photography