21 July 2015 Update: Astro Boy has extended through 8 August
It’s a marvel that the current West Coast Premiere at The Fools takes on so many issues so successfully in the space of seventy minutes. On its surface, ‘Astro Boy and the God of Comics’ is a retrosynthetic look at Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka, legendary within a circle, but poorly known outside of it. Natsu Onoda Power has crafted twelve tight vignettes starting with a cartoon character flying off to save the world and working backward to the early years of the man who created him. The steps in between make us ask where exactly the lines between culture and sub-culture, high art and pop art, and science and society are drawn – pun intended. Director Jaime Robledo and an exceptional cast and crew pull it off much like they did with ‘When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ a couple of years ago.
This is a tech-heavy show blending live performers, puppets, projections, and real-time art. It is all required – this artist’s life can’t be told without his creations and those creations have to move. Tezuka came from a happy childhood, lived through World War II, and watched his art take off into commerce thereafter. His success in comics fueled an animation empire that generated the beloved Astro Boy cartoon but that ultimately couldn’t sustain itself.
The preshow visuals warmup the neophyte, hinting at why the man was and is such a big deal. Small projectors discreetly hidden in the light grid shine on two gauzy screens and the back wall as needed. It’s ‘Dry Cleaning’ quality work with the added complexities of a large cast living in this half-real, half-animated world. Matt Richter and Anthony Backman transform a small physical space into a city, a world, a solar-system with tricks of perspective, light, and shadow all without being overtly clever about it.
In an evening of tech done right, it’s live art that vaults ‘Astro Boy’ into tour-de-force. Performers in Los Angeles are adept at some combination of acting, dancing, singing, and backstage work. Art Director Aviva Pressman has her ensemble drawing the scenery in jaw-dropping synch with the rest of the business. It’s no gimmick, its not mere doodling, and must have presented substantial headscratching in casting. The actors draw characters and scenery in pens, ink, and charcoal onto large tearaway sheets on the back wall. The choreography is mesmerizing especially in the Guernica-for-Hiroshima roughly halfway through the work. Each sheet is ripped down at the end of a scene, crumpled, and hauled off stage. It’s a damn shame – they’d make fine auction pieces for a theatre in the midst of a capital campaign. West Liang and Heather Schmidt nimbly represent Tezuka and Astro Boy although the short span of the play doesn’t and can’t fully explore their Gepetto Pinocchio relationship. There are allusions to Clarke, Dick, and Asimov as the rights, roles, and responsibilities of superhumans bump up against the anxieties of their human creators. Liang and Schmidt manage to imbue their re-enactions of cartoon scenes with surprising tenderness. Among the uniformly excellent ensemble, Megumi Kabe stands out with a wistful portrayal, in Japanese, of Tezuka’s utterly loyal but shamefully neglected wife.
Graphic novels, anime, manga – call them what you will. At their best, they can take us into worlds orthogonal to more common forms of storytelling. This intersection of cartoon and stage beautifully serves both and is a tribute to the art of possibilities and the possibilities of art. Time is running out. Don’t miss it.
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm
660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90004
(310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online
Heather Schmidt as Astro Boy
West Liang as Osamu Tezuka
Zach Brown, Megumi Kabe, Anthony Li, Mandi Moss, Jaime Puckett & Marz Richards
Erin Sanzo as Astro Boy
Scot Shamblin as Osamu Tezuka
Gregory Guy Gorden , Lisa Anne Nicolai, & Aviva Pressman
Lead Producer / Technical Supervisor – Brian W. Wallis
Live Art Director – Aviva Pressman
Assistant Director – Rebecca Larsen
Associate Producer (Design/Tech) – Shaunessy Quinn
Associate Producer (Casting/Outreach) – Seamus Sullivan
Marketing Coordinator – Carrie Keranen
Stage Manager – Heatherlynn Gonzalez
Assistant Stage Manager – Suze Campagna
Scenic Design – DeAnne Millais
Lighting Design – Matt Richter
Costume Design – Linda Muggeridge
Prop Design – Brandon Clark
Puppet Design – Natsu Onoda Power
Sound Design – Jaime Robledo
Original Music – Ryan Johnson
Stunt/Fight Choreography – Mike Mahaffey
Suzuki Trainer – Joe Fria
Projection Video Design – Anthony Backman
Projection Animation Design – Jim Pierce
Animation Painter – Danielle Heitmuller
Stage Crew – Bo Powell & Alyson Schultz
Production Intern – Sophie Pietrkowski
Performance Photography – Jessica Sherman Photography
Key Art – Christopher Komuro