She began life as an animated black-and-white cartoon character created by Max Fleischer and was seen as the sexiest little Jazz Age flapper to grab hold of a vast audience in the 1930s — and for years beyond. Now she’s back as a time-traveling young woman who gets sent on a life-changing visit to New York where she can be her real self and burst into full color, at least for a short while.
That is the transformation that takes place in “BOOP! The Musical,” which had its grand-scale world premiere at Chicago’s CIBC Theatre on Wednesday night. The show is clearly on its way to Broadway with an absolutely starry performance by Jasmine Amy Rogers, an actress who can sing and dance up a storm in a role that is sure to fly her into the spotlight. Rogers has nailed Boop’s inner self to perfection and brings great joy to what is unquestionably an immensely demanding role. A true knockout.
With an exuberant score by composer David Foster and lyricist Susan Birkenhead, and a book by Bob Martin (whose engaging concept could use a bit of tweaking in its opening scene), the show comes to life under director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, with Rogers, dressed in red, making the most of what is an unquestionably marathon-like role.
What happens when Boop arrives in Manhattan? She feels free and “real.” She is befriended by Trisha (played by Angelica Hale, a 16-year-old of dazzling vocal and acting talent), who lives in a New York brownstone. And she captures the heart of a trumpet player, Dwayne (in a terrific performance by Ainsley Anthony Meehan), a struggling young jazz musician with whom she eventually performs.
Meanwhile there is another love affair in the works as Grampy (Stephen DeRosa), Boop’s grandfather and the man who has engineered her time-traveling adventure, is reunited with Valentina (Faith Prince), an old flame who, in “the real world,” works as a physicist.
The show’s large chorus of singer/actor/dancers lights up the stage in a slew of terrific tap dance sequences that make full use of Mitchell’s choreographic roots. And easily stealing the show from time to time is the absolutely marvelous, laugh-inducing puppetry of Phillip Huber, whose manipulation of Pudgy, the opinionated time-traveling dog, should earn him a special award.
David Rockwell’s multifaceted set enhances the storytelling, with lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg, costume design by Gregg Barnes and elaborate projections by Finn Ross.
The excellent orchestra, led by Andrew Resnick, is top notch. But the continual intensity of sound for the show would benefit from some subtle adjustments.
Overall, the ingenious storytelling — and Rogers’ superb performance that brings Boop to “real” life and transforms a brilliant and enduring cartoon character into an immensely interesting and sympathetic human being — is a sheer delight.
Boop-Oop-a-Doop as they say (translate it as you will). And you might even find yourself wishing that once Boop gets another star turn (this time in three dimensions) and explores her deeper self, that a guy named Popeye might also get a chance to star in a musical.
“BOOP! The Musical” runs through Dec. 24 at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. For tickets. visit broadwayinchicago.com.
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic