The least credible parts of Bubble Boy the Musical are by far the most fun. A boy is confined to a spherical antiseptic room because his immune system can’t handle germs? Of course. His crazy mother only allows him to read Highlights magazines? Why not! He dons a bubble suit to traverse the country and stop the woman he loves from getting married, and on the way befriends a biker gang, a cult, and an ice cream truck driven by a man named Pushpahp? Obviously!
The world premiere of Bubble Boy, with catchy music and lyrics by Cinco Paul and a frivolous book by Ken Daurio, is currently playing at Rahway’s Hamilton Stage until November 24. The show is produced by American Theater Group, New Jersey’s newest professional theater, and directed by Jen Wineman with musical direction from Brent Crayon. Based on the 2001 cult classic movie written by Paul and Daurio, the musical version shies away from darker issues of captivity and isolation, and opts instead for finding the pointedly ridiculous in this story’s premise (as musicals are wont to do).
The result is a belly-laughable romp of a production. Chris McCarrell’s manic, desperately naive Jimmy embodies this show’s buoyant spirit – the irresistible glint in his eye calls Peter Pan to mind. This boy, however, does grow up, and it’s remarkably gratifying to watch him do so. As increasingly outlandish as his journey becomes, we’re rooting for Jimmy to get the girl even as we’re certain he will succeed. It’s also fun to root for Chloe, the charming girl in question (Gerianne Pérez, sassing it up effortlessly).
Character development here is deliciously wafer-thin, and incidentally, so is the design. Deb O’s sets and props are a 2-D cartoony marvel. Her projections brilliantly draw inspiration from Highlights magazine, concealing odd details among comic-like images. The hardworking ensemble, donning Elizabeth Barrett Groth’s costumes at an alarming pace, channels this cartoonish aesthetic with enthusiasm. Wineman is an eclectic choreographer as well as director, her dance numbers flitting everywhere from jazz to Latin-flavored to, most inventively, dubstep.
Cinco Paul’s infectious music toes the line between predictability and jolts of off-color humor. Some of the racist-lite quips feel gratuitous considering this isn’t a story that has anything to do with race or class or religion. There’s a quasi-Bollywood number about a dead cow that feels unnecessarily offensive, and a jab at Jews that just doesn’t land. Despite this confection of arbitrary genres and tropes, the roasting is all in good PG-rated fun. This is, after all, a romantic comedy with a song titled “There’s a Bubble Around My Heart.”
Other musical highlights include the hysterically bro-y “Something Called Forever” and the act one finale “Out of Here.” Certain numbers could be pushed to even more ludicrous extremes; Chloe’s “Decontaminate Me” starts with a hilarious come-hither premise, then somehow fizzles. Erin Maguire – dominating the proceedings as Jimmy’s helicopter mom with a Tea Partyesque lunacy – manages to turn a ditty about social and medical hygiene into a show-stopper.
Not entirely brainless, and with more than a little heart, Bubble Boy’s celebration of such silliness makes it foolish and unforgettable in equal measure. When a lovesick Jimmy threatens to burst his bubble by brandishing a spork, and wielding it in frantic, swinging circles, it’s impossible not to get swept up in this show’s goofy, off-kilter charm.