I’ve always been a fan of musicals, but usually the more conventional ones, like My Fair Lady, The Phantom of the Opera, RENT, etc. I think the most off-colour musical I’ve seen is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street…I mean, a serial killer barber is far off the path of love stories, as most musicals are typically about. So yes, Sweeney Todd was the most original musical I had seen- that is, until I saw Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
Created by Joss Whedon (whom also created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly), the comedy/musical tells the story of Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), an aspiring supervillain, whom is also the host of his very own video blog. So far, Dr. Horrible’s attempts at world domination have been futile- mostly due to the fact that he’s a sort of hapless supervillain (I mean, his roommate and sidekick is simply named Moist (Simon Helberg) and his super power is the ability to moisten things. Really, that’s it.)- but also because every time he tries to take over the world, his archnemesis, Captain Hammer(Nathan Fillion) gets in the way.
The musical begins with another typical day of Dr. Horrible’s life- him trying to obtain a weapon in which to take over the world- until Captain Hammer intercepts, thwarting his plans and stealing Dr. Horrible’s crush, Penny (Felicia Day) along the way. Now Dr. Horrible’s goal is to rule the world, get back Penny, and stop Captain Hammer once and for all. All of this is told alongside big musical numbers, creating a hilariously funny musical spectacular.
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, the Harold & Kumar series, Doogie Howser, M.D.), is absolutely brilliant as Dr. Horrible. Even though his main goal is to join the Evil League of Evil and take over the world for his own nefarious reasons, you can’t help but root for him; he’s actually sweet, and very funny. Harris delivers a number of funny one-liners, and his comedic timing is absolutely perfect. I am a big fan of Harris’ work (particularly on HIMYM), and he doesn’t disappoint here- his contagious and likeable personality shines through, as usual. I wasn’t too familiar with Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly) prior to this, but he also adds a lot of humour to the film; he and Harris have great chemistry on screen, and a lot of the laughs come when the two of them interact. However, I wasn’t terribly impressed with Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and felt that any other female actress could’ve basically played the same role, and perhaps made it a bit more memorable. Nor was I very fond of her singing (but I’ll get to that in a second). Though Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) plays a very minor role, I still enjoyed his moist-filled moments on the screen.
I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with the actual music used in the film. Joss Whedon and his brother Jed wrote all of the original songs, and the thing I liked most about them is that they do a great job of imitating the kind of music you hear in classic musicals. The duet between Dr. Horrible and Penny, My Eyes, is filled with beautiful and complex harmonies, and sounds a lot like some of the duets in RENT. The big group number, So They Say, is cheerful and bouncy and would’ve easily fit in during a scene of an Andy Rooney musical, if it weren’t for the lyrical content. My favourite song is Brand New Day, where the sing-a-long, jovial melody is juxtaposed with Dr. Horrible’s dark feelings towards Captain Hammer (“It’s a brand new day/And the sun is high/All the birds are singing/That you’re gonna die”).
Not only are the songs actually good, but they’re also sung really well. Harris has done work on Broadway before (he’s had roles in both the aforementioned musicals, Sweeney Todd and RENT), so it’s not much of a surprise how effortlessly he tackles some of the long notes during his solos. He’s got a lovely tenor voice, which works perfectly with his character. Fillion’s baritone is also fitting with Captain Hammer’s bravado, and though his voice isn’t anything extraordinary, he still holds up during his songs and duets. As I mentioned earlier, Felicia Day’s singing voice doesn’t do much for me; at best it’s unremarkable (just like her screen presence), and at other times, she actually goes flat. Thankfully, the majority of her singing is done during duets, so there’s never really much pressure on her to carry a tune on her own.
The Whedon brothers (Joss, Jed, as well as their brother, Zac) are responsible for the writing (actress, Maurissa Tancharoen, whom is also Jed’s wife, is credited as one of the writers as well), and production, while Joss is solely responsible for the direction. All three components are stellar; the plot is smartly and cleverly written, the production is superb (especially for a self-funded project with a budget of $200,000), and the direction is solid. The film was originally just a side project that Whedon thought of during the Writer’s Strike in 2007, and was released online as three separate episodes (the film is divided into three acts, each 14 minutes long), but due to the cult following, was later released on DVD as one cohesive film, and was also made available for streaming on Netflix. The DVD includes extras, such as a musical commentary, in which the casts provide their commentary notes while singing, of course.
I didn’t go into Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog really expecting to like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. I applaud the Whedon brothers for coming up with an original idea, and also following through with it; though you do get the idea that the film is a parody of musicals, it’s also done so extremely well that it can honestly be classified as a genuine musical. The acting and singing (particularly from Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion) is superb, and the whole thing works together amazingly well. Whether you’re a fan of Whedon’s previous work, looking for a silly way to pass some time, or just looking for a new musical to enjoy, you’re bound to find something to like here.