It’s not unusual to see a musical based on a movie or TV show or even a comic. But “Rogers: The Musical” might be the first one created from a throwaway joke in a TV show spun-off from a film series based on comic books. Audiences can now check out the mini-musical, which runs about a tight half hour, at Disney California Adventure’s Hyperion Theater, through Aug. 31. I was lucky enough to witness the opening performance last week, followed by a panel discussion with some of the key creatives.
“Rogers” first came to life in the Disney+ show “Hawkeye,” in which Jeremy Renner’s titular Avenger finds himself taking in a Broadway show with his kids. The show hits a little too close to home, as it turns out to be an adaptation of the life of his friend Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America. The show’s big number “Save the City,” details how the Avengers defeated the villain Loki in the Battle of New York in 2012. We watch a befuddled Hawkeye taking in the surreal display of these jazzified versions of The Avengers. That includes Ant-Man – who wasn’t even there!
So though we catch less than a minute of the stage show on “Hawkeye,” in those few seconds it achieves something sublime: It’s silly but self-aware; a hilarious commentary on consumerism airing on a network owned by Disney; and, perhaps most important, a genuinely clever and catchy number. That’s because even for a joke, the “Hawkeye” crew wasn’t messing around — they enlisted the great Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman for the song, a team whose songwriting credits include Broadway’s “Hairspray” and the film “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Soon after the episode aired, the internet was abuzz with people saying they wanted a real, live “Rogers” musical. That included Dan Fields – but unlike those of us rhapsodizing on Twitter, Fields just happens to be the executive creative director of Disney Live Entertainment. At the panel, Fields revealed, “We were like every fan that said, ‘I want to see the rest of it!’ Then we realized, ‘Hey, we’re Disney Live Entertainment, we can do that!’”
It seems clear that much like the musical-inside-the-show on “Hawkeye,” the folks at Disney Live knew they couldn’t mess around. They assembled their own heroic crew to mount the production. To direct, they tapped Jordan Peterson, who began his career as a parade performer before serving as show director on projects “Oogie Boogie Bash” and “Magic Happens,” the first Disney daytime parade in almost 10 years.
For the book, they called on Hunter Bell, a Tony Award nominee for his work on “[title of show],” to cull hours’ worth of stories from the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a sitcom-length program. Bell knew pretty quickly where he wanted to center “Rogers” — on the story between Steve and Agent Peggy Carter. It makes sense, as “The Avengers” in many ways begins chronologically with “Captain America: The First Avenger” and closes in “Avengers: Endgame” on a shot of the duo. “Great love stories make great musicals,” Bell noted. “So much great musical theater is based on a love story. When we kind of honed in on that love story, I think that sealed the deal.”
The new music was composed by Grammy Award winner Christopher Lennertz, who previously earned an Emmy nomination for a different superhero song when he wrote the music and lyrics for the song “Never Truly Vanish” for Amazon Prime Video’s satirical “The Boys.” Lennertz also wrote the lyrics for five new songs with Peterson and Alex Karukas. (In addition to “Save the City,” the show includes the song “Star Spangled Man” from “Captain America,” written by Alan Menken and David Zippel.)
“[We] wanted to give everyone — both musical theater fans and superhero fans — something they would love about the music,” Lennertz revealed. He was also excited by the idea of spanning 70 years with the music, which gives the audience a chance to several different styles, from Busby Berkeley-inspired big band numbers to a Stephen Sondheim-esque patter song where Nick Fury explains what Rogers has slept through during his 70 years on ice.
Yes, Nick Fury sings — and wears a sequined eyepatch! And the number, called “What You Missed,” is a true showstopper.
Sarah Kobayashi, choreographer for Disney Live Entertainment, also enjoyed utilizing the different time periods to incorporate “various dance styles through the decades and spinning them with a modern twist.” Kobayashi is also a self-proclaimed Avengers fan and says she wanted to find movement that made sense “for their characters and their humanity at times and their superhero moments.” And it shows she knows the characters — check out Thor’s joyous dancing or the sly moves of the musical’s Loki.
All the elements are top-notch, from the gorgeous costumes to the creative sets and lighting. A very special shout-out goes to the ASL interpreters who not only relay the dialogue but truly convey the emotions taking place on stage with their faces and signing. For example, they creatively will stretch out a gesture if someone is holding a note. Though it’s in a theme park, it truly has a Broadway vibe and only convinces me further that a full-length Marvel musical is not only needed, but inevitable.
For more information on “Rogers: The Musical” and showtimes, visit https://disneyland.disney.go.com/entertainment/disney-california-adventure/rogers-the-musical/