Directed by Don DiGiulio, the first big musical production from Arcade Comedy Theater stars Nathaniel Yost as Jimmy, an immunity-deficient young man living in a protective bubble (his catchphrase is “A single germ could kill me”). He seems content to be stuck in his bedroom with his overbearing, judgmental mother (played with crazed gusto by Missy Moreno) until bad girl Chloe (Alex Manalo) moves in next door. Sweet, innocent Jimmy strikes up an unlikely friendship with the new girl, which eventually blossoms into love. When Chloe runs off to marry Mark (Noah Welter) at Niagara Falls, Jimmy decides it’s time to create a mobile version of his bubble and hit the road to stop the wedding. From there, the show becomes an unstoppable force, with cast members dancing, singing, and running on and off stage at a feverish pace, all to live music by Joseph P. Stamerra’s three-piece band.
To call the show low-tech would be an understatement. With limited space to work with, the wacky road trip plays out with little more than projections and mime – the actors, many of whom are regular improv and sketch performers at Arcade, bounce and lean as they pretend to ride a bus, a motorcycle, and an ice cream truck. Costumes look straight out of a high school play, with Jimmy’s travel bubble – designed by Sarah Wojdylak with a combination of flexible PVC piping, rubber gloves, and plastic sheeting – being the obvious standout.
The DIY approach, with its lack of props and effects, places more emphasis on the performers, giving them free rein to showcase their skills. Arcade first-timers Yost and Manalo show off their respective talents, with Yost bringing a highly emotive manic charm to Jimmy, and the flexible Manalo providing physical comedy with a dancer’s flair (that they both can sing well also doesn’t hurt). The supporting players in the 13-person cast give it their all by playing multiple roles, hamming it up as cops, high school students, and motorcycle gang members, among others.
It’s hard to deny the power of Moreno, who, as Jimmy's mom, often sent the audience roaring with little more than an intense facial expression or well-timed gesture. Moreno, a Second City-trained performer whose credits include Arcade’s babyGRAND show with Conor McCanlus, shines along with Brad Stephenson, who makes a perfect straight man as her mute, put-upon husband, Gil.
If anything, Arcade’s Bubble Boy: The Musical proves you don’t need big sets, flashy costumes, or special effects to wow audiences. With the right cast and a “Let’s put on a show!” attitude, you can create something hilarious enough to make someone choke.
Bubble Boy: The Musical at Arcade Comedy Theater. Showtimes vary. Continues through Sat., Sept. 21. 943 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $25. arcadecomedytheater.com