At 28 years old, the main charcter of Hero: The Musical, the latest production from Asolo Repertory Theatre, still lives in his father’s house, works at his father’s store and remains too afraid to pursue his professional or romantic dreams. Trapped in the Milwaukee malaise with no discernible way out—except maybe the superheroes who grace the glossy pages of his graphic novels—Hero is forced to find his own superpower and move forward. Fresh off of its 2012 debut at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago, Hero is a charming, funny and surprisingly moving tale of courage and growing up in the modern world.
For creator Aaron Thielen, artistic director at the Chicago Marriott, the idea grew naturally from his own extensive stay in Milwaukee, including a particular house/store combo he recalls vividly. “It’s a whole world in one little plot of land,” said Thielen. “I knew it’d be great as a shop and the questions just started coming. Who embodies this comic shop?” Thielen began filling out his imaginary comic book store with the people he remembered from the old days and tapped musician/composer Michael Mahler to write music and lyrics. Roughly three years later, Hero was ready for Chicago.
But good enough for Chicago doesn’t mean good enough for Sarasota, and Thielen and Mahler spent the time elapsed tweaking, trimming and rewriting both music and book for Hero’s Sarasota debut. “I really feel like it’s strong storytelling and it’s the story that Mike and I wanted to tell,” said Thielen. “I feel like this production is going to be stronger than any before.”
For Brian Sears, who took a leave of absence from the Broadway production of the hit Book of Mormon for Hero, landing the lead role of Hero was a delight. “I read it and I was blown away by the script even though I hadn’t heard any of the music,” said Sears. “He’s such a well-written character and it’s rare to have a character my age who’s written with such complexity.”
Sears was also impressed by the quality of the music and arrangements when he finally heard them. “If it’s done right, it comes from a place that’s real,” said Sears. “None of these songs come out of nowhere; every note is written specifically because we can’t put across what we mean with just words.”
Characters and subplots came and went throughout the course of Hero’s development, but Thielen never strayed from his core idea that every person, like the superheroes who make up our modern mythology, has their own superpower. “I do believe we all have our own special gift,” said Thielen. “The question is whether you embrace who you are and try to use your superpower to help the world.”
Directed by Asolo Rep’s David H. Bell and with Broadway performer Laurie Veldheer and Hero veteran Don Forston rounding out the cast, Hero: The Musical opens today, May 2, 8pm at the Asolo Rep.
Original article published May 2, 2014 by SRQ Daily.