Hawkins, Indiana, may be home to murderous monsters, but it’s way less threatening when you toss in campy musical numbers and silly wigs.
You get plenty of both in Stranger Sings: The Parody Musical, which bills itself as a “hilarious ‘upside down’ take” on the hit Netflix horror drama about young friends facing supernatural forces in a fictional ’80s town. It’s playing off-Broadway in New York now, and runs through Jan. 1 in London. The show comes to Melbourne, Australia, in November, with more Australian cities on the docket.
With its colorful cast of ragtag characters, big ’80s hair and bulky portable phones that could double as doorstops, the series practically begged for musical satire, says Jonathan Hogue, writer and producer of Stranger Sings.
“When I started exploring this series as a parody musical, the songs and story beats all fell into place so naturally, as if the show was meant to be musicalized, and parodied, from the beginning,” says Hogue, a big fan of the Duffer brothers’ creation, which ended its fourth season in August. “Who doesn’t want to see Joyce get a big brassy showstopper with her Christmas lights? Or Barb become a vengeful musical diva?”
The rest of the gang’s here for the musical version too: Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Will, Eleven Hopper, Steve and Jonathan. Stranger Sings follows season 1’s story arc, which explains the reappearance of poor, ill-fated Barb, alive again and doing duets with questionable bestie Nancy.
“We’ll stick together, friends forever, and best friends never, they never die,” they sing with a knowing wink.
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The show lasts around two hours and features 14 songs — about life in Hawkins, awkward teen crushes and the stress of having your child kidnapped and taken to another dimension. Some of the more amusing lyrics come from a number featuring psychic kid Eleven singing about sketchy Hawkins National Laboratory scientist Dr. Brenner. Her father figure does some very unpaternal things, like put Eleven in a sensory deprivation tank to exploit her telekinetic powers for government evil.
“I always wanted a dad who would never make me cry,” Eleven sings. “One who’d tell me, ‘Kid, I’m so proud of you,’ instead of ‘Stay in your cell ’til July.'”
“I got a lot of ideas from watching and listening to classic ’80s films and music, but I also carried so much inspiration over from my lifelong obsession with Saturday Night Live, Mel Brooks, Monty Python and other sketch comedy creators,” says Hogue, who’s pursuing a graduate degree in theater management and producing at New York’s Columbia University. “It was also important to me that while the show remained funny throughout, I also made sure to infuse it with just the right amount of heart so that audiences really cared about these characters, as silly as they are.”
The show’s pulled in generally enthusiastic reviews, with critics calling it high-energy and hilarious. It won seven Broadway World Off/Off-Off Broadway Awards in 2021, including best new musical, best costume design, lighting design and scene design.
Hogue has watched all four seasons of the Netflix show, met the cast and even been an extra in a few episodes. But he says audiences can still enjoy the musical even if they’ve never heard of Madmax or the Mind Flayer or tweeted using the #justiceforbarb hashtag.
“One of my favorite things to hear … is audience members telling me, ‘I’ve never seen an episode of Stranger Things and I loved this show,” Hogue says.
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This isn’t the first time Stranger Things has been set to music. Five years ago, singer Brian David Gilbert came out with a comedic musical backing track to be played in place of the first season’s regular audio track. The album’s also called Stranger Sings, but isn’t connected with the musical.
The fifth and final season of Stranger Things is expected on Netflix sometime in 2024. The Duffer brothers have confirmed a time jump for season 5, but they haven’t revealed details.
In the meantime, maybe a hip-thrusting Demogorgon in a tight body suit will tide you over.
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