'Thrones! The Musical' and the Fart of Musical Parodies
The latest in a string of musical parodies has consumed Los Angeles in its shrill vice grip.
How did it take six whole seasons for Game of Thrones to spawn a nationwide musical parody? It seems to be a great oversight in this age of irony, but the time has finally come for Westeros to get roasted, and so I made sure to be the audience of Thrones! The Musical Parody at the Hudson Theater on Los Angeles Saturday night.
By all accounts, Thrones! was very good during its successful first run in Chicago. At the very least, it knows its source material extremely well. There’s a song that lists over 500 minor GoT characters in a breathless flurry, the dragon puppetry that a be-wigged Daenerys fails to scale is peak pratfalling, Cersei’s infamous walk of shame is parodied, and some of the more sexist tropes that often play out in the show are touched upon. I’m not a big GoT fan, so I took audience members’ word about some of those things.
“I’m glad they’re calling out the sexism,” one woman sitting next to me said to her bespectacled beloved. “It’s hard to watch sometimes, but also, you know, I’m not just gonna stop watching now.”
It’s not this musical parody show, in particular, that’s so egregious; it’s more that the genre feels tired. To be perfectly honest, I was asleep for a solid 45 minutes of Thrones! The Musical Parody, a protest of a silly parody selling out theaters when I can’t even get my friends to watch me eat dog food at an open mic anymore.
In no particular order, here’s a sampling of the musical parodies that have made the touring rounds in the past handful of years: 50 Shades! The Parody, 90210! The Musical, Full House: The Musical, Showgirls: The Musical, Back the the Future: The Musical, Shamilton, The Unauthorized Hocus Pocus Musical Parody, Friends: The One Where They Sing, Bayside the Musical!: The Saved By the Bell Musical, Cruel Intentions: The UnAuthorized Musical Parody, Thank You For Being a Friend: The Golden Girls Musical, Hyperspace: The Star Wars Musical Parody, the ever-changing Forbidden Broadway that’s dominated New York for over 30 years and perhaps my favorite soul-crushing headline of all time: “Two Parody Shows of Fifty Shades of Grey Hit South Florida” — and that’s only in the past two years; the parody’s roots run as deep as Broadway itself.
Plus, there are more humble productions like Tonya and Nancy and The Golden Girls Musical, held in popular comedy theaters like Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City, and the Improv Olympic. Like its cinematic counterparts, in franchises like the Scary Movie series, the directness of the parody is protected under parody law, which allows creatives to parody previous work without asking permission of its original author (in this case, George R.R. Martin and HBO). It’s smart marketing, and pays massive dividends: Forbidden Broadway has spawned 21 different revues since its off-Broadway birth in 1982, and the Scary Movie franchise has grossed nearly half a billion dollars over its five installments. Because of parody law, none of the creatives in charge of these franchises need to make a payout to the authors of the source material; rather, they’re able to use success of an existing juggernaut as a springboard to riches. Thrones! is ample evidence of this, having nearly sold out every show at the Hudson Theater in L.A. and being extended several weeks into its planned run.
Like a Family Guy reference-laden cutaway or Paint Nite with your aging sorority, shows like Thrones! The Musical Parody are very lazy, highly lucrative fun that, while it may not draw a crowd ten years from now, captures the interests of a large audience at a particular point in time. It’s intentionally crafted to provide no challenge to the audience, but rather fan service in the same way that direct stage adaptations of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek: The Musical, and Heathers: The Musical deliver instant gratification instead of provocation. This is exactly what most people in the audience are there for, though fans of the source material aren’t necessarily guaranteed to love the complimentary spoof.
One of the more surprising revelations of the evening was that, if my superhuman eavesdropping is to be believed, some of Game of Thrones’ biggest fans were just about as happy to be there as I was … which was not at all.
“Having fun?” one mom asked her teenage son (who, I find it important to note, was wearing a Morrissey t-shirt). He sighed.
“There is nothing that will make this okay for me,” he answered, presumably as the theme song from Charmed looped in his head. “I’m an actual fan.”
Mom’s lips tightened, and we all silently prayed that she’d give a better Christmas gift next year. She, however, had a great time, howling through the showstopper “Stabbin’,” and tapped her toes through “Sansa’s Song.” This is another area where Thrones! uses its low threshold premise to its advantage — even audience members who know little to nothing of the HBO series and its source books were at least mildly amused.
Listen, I have nothing against Thrones! The Musical Parody except for its title, target audience, and most of the song and dialogue it contains. With any luck, the able cast and crew — who admittedly staged a bad show very well — will laugh when they tell their children they paid off their musical theater degree by touring with a hokey off-off-off-so-off-Broadway-it’s-practically-in-Tijuana show someday. It’s a fun show, an easy premise, and is the kind of good old-fashioned whitewashed escapism that nearly won La La Land the Best Picture Oscar.
Does this make me a sentient, slowly leaking whoopie cushion? The extended fart noise of parody theater critics? Maybe. Does it make Thrones! The Parody a piece of theater that has any staying power? Definitely not. But hey, “Stabbin’” has been stuck in my head for three days.