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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Theatre review: Catching Fire: The Musical has an infectious fun that is diminished by this sequel’s expansion

One thing is for sure, there are more laughs in Catching Fire: The Musical than in the Victorian detective parody currently playing on Granville Street.

Taking aim at the Hunger Games franchise, Catching Fire: The Musical is the sequel to last year’s Hunger Games: The Musical at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Like many of Hollywood’s film franchises though, they can overstay their welcome.

While the show is once again filled to the brim with some clever pop culture and local references, in an attempt to expand the show into a full-length “musical”, this show features an intermission, extending the total running time to just over 100 minutes.  Compare that to last year’s Fringe show which clocked in at 70, that extra thirty minutes can definitely make a difference in sustaining our interest. Perhaps an intermission-less 90 minutes might have been the smarter choice.

(For those keeping track of such things, “musical” is in quotes because Catching Fire, as did its predecessor, uses existing pop songs with the lyrics changed to suit the action.)

Book writer and lyricist Mark Vandenberg returns for this outing with Katniss and friends and his love for the source material – a pre-requisite for any good parody – is evident. From that admiration springs a cast that, while not hitting every note, is obviously having a good time on stage. That sense of fun can be infectious.

Many of the original Hunger Games cast members return for this sequel. Jennifer Pielak and Riley Qualtieri find themselves once again as the lead characters, Katniss and Peeta.  There is a chemistry between the two that obviously comes from having worked together before, and both have the voices to tackle the show’s pop music.  The rest of this likable cast is strongest when they come together as an ensemble.

One of the most exciting things about Catching Fire: The Musical is the live mixing of the music from Oker Chen on-stage. It would be nice though to somehow incorporate Chen into the story, rather than a fleeting acknowledgement as the DJ.

The more traditional set-up inside the Studio 1398 space this year allows for a more fluid feel to the show, but under Vandenberg’s direction a couple of scenes are lost by actors playing on the floor. Reviewed in a preview performance, hopefully things will be tweaked by opening.

Zac Shymka gets to have some fun with Tina Nguyen’s animation on two large white screens that flank DJ Chen on both sides.

There are laughs here and, like its predecessor, Catching Fire: The Musical will appeal to the fans of its source material. For those with a passing interest, it doesn’t quite sustain through its expansion. Or maybe it’s because three years have passed since Catching Fire first hit the silver screen, and there have already been the two intervening Mockingjay films. Whatever the reason, producers may want to carefully consider any future sequels.

Now, Die Hard: The Musical? That I want to see.

Catching Fire: The Musical with book and lyrics by Mark Vandenberg. Directed by Mark Vandenberg. On stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright Street on Granville Island) until October 1. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets.

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