Getting retro and raunchy with Pokémon

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • April 5, 2012

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The cast of Pokémon: The 90s Rock Show added juvenile — and occasionally crass — shenanigans to the 1990s video game, anime, and trading card phenomenon.
The cast of Pokémon: The 90s Rock Show added juvenile — and occasionally crass — shenanigans to the 1990s video game, anime, and trading card phenomenon.

Childhood cartoons and pop culture of yesteryear spilled off the TV screen and into the Little Building Cabaret March 28 in Pokémon: The 90s Rock Show, a gaudy musical from the mind of sophomore visual and media arts major Andrew Barret Cox.

Cox wrote the script his junior year of high school. Though he has done run-throughs before, the performance in the Cab was the first time the Emerson community got a chance to see the show. He originally pitched his show to several student troupes, but when things didn’t pan out he took matters into his own hands.

“I’ve been doing readings of it for four years now,” Cox said. “I just got to the point where I was tired of it sitting on the shelf and wanted people to finally see the show.”

Pokémon: The 90s Rock Show is a musical about a college-bound brother and sister (Danny Irwin and Erin Berry, respectively) who go up into their attic to reminisce over childhood treasures from the 1990s. The discovery of an enchanted Game Boy Color, the clunky handheld videogame console from their youth, causes the world of the popular anime and videogame series Pokémon to merge with our universe, and thus, begins Armageddon. It’s a silly plot — and an even sillier show — and yet, it all feels consistent due to the sheer juvenile goofiness Cox allows it to reach.

“The show is demented with a child-like innocence,” said Cox. “Different people have different funny bones, and so I tried to cater to all types of humor.”

The musical finds much of its voice in the fish-out-of-water situation the Pokémon characters find themselves in when they enter our world. Ash (Andrew Spatafora) and Brock (Brian Dratch), the two main male characters of the cartoon franchise, learn about the male anatomy for the first time, since they were never drawn that way in their own world. And James (Chris Renalds), the notoriously flamboyant half of the franchise’s evil duo Team Rocket, discovers he is gay in a uproarious song with lyrics like, “Let me see your Pokéballs.”

“It’s all very random, silly humor,” said Cox, likening it to the type of madcap style featured in 90s shows like All That and The Amanda Show.

Even innocent Misty (Abby Woodman), the series’ main female protagonist, cannot avoid skewering in this parody show that, like A Very Potter Musical, takes character traits and exaggerates like a crude piece of fan-fiction. How else could one explain Cox’s decision to pen the song “My Two (Three) Best Friends,” in which Misty sings about how her ample bosoms, not Ash and Brock, are her true best friends.

The show isn’t always crass — the second act introduces a Westboro Baptist Church-style religious zealot who tries to turn the world against Pokémon. This leads Jesse (Chiara Trentalane), Team Rocket’s other half, to bust out a show-stopping number entitled “No War That Love Hasn’t Won” about love, friendship, and equality for all.

The show also strikes a  heartfelt note with big finale number “Not Completely Grown Up.” The entire ensembles shares the message that one shouldn’t completely abandon one’s childhood, singing, “Don’t forget where you came from, don’t forget who you are.”

The costumes were a fun, albeit homemade, recreation of garb the Pokémon characters always wear: Ash and his baseball cap, Brock and his vest, Misty and her mustard colored shirt and denim short shorts. Actress Dani Berkowitz even donned yellow face paint and a tail to portray series mascot, Pikachu.

The Cab was filled, leaving many to sit on the floor in the front and others to stand in the back. The reception and the sheer campiness of the show recalled a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The entire show’s unpolished feel just added to the charm.

“It was a fantastic and nostalgic trip down memory lane for a 90s kids like me,” said freshman performing arts major Polly Hilton. “Andrew is witty and offensive in the best way possible.”