By Michele Willens
Upper West Sider Jonathan Hogue recently turned 30. At the same time, he learned that his off-Broadway creation has been extended yet again. This has been a challenging time in the theater world, but Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical, just keeps going. A campy sendup of the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, the show has won seven off-Broadway awards, including best new musical, and is now scheduled to continue at least through April. Although Hogue grew up loving Broadway shows (“Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy rolls off his tongue), he is not a musician himself. Hold that thought.
Like the series, (now in its fourth season) the live show takes place in the early ‘80s in a small town in Indiana, where sci-fi meets teenage angst meets poor parenting and more. Even though the series has no music of note, Hogue watched that and envisioned this. “I was obsessed with the TV show, and particularly loved the nostalgia of it,” he says. “I grew up on E.T and the show has elements of that too. And I love intelligent satire: papers like The Onion, shows like SNL, and films by Mel Brooks.” He’s not kidding about his passion for parody. In high school, students were asked to write something about molecules and, he recalls, “I wrote a skit roasting our science teacher.”
Since he does not write music, Hogue basically “hummed tunes into my iPhone” for the show.” Within the last two years from his UWS apartment, he wrote the book, found a director (Nick Flatto), a musical director (Michael Kaish), had readings and some brief runs at small venues. “The good news is you don’t have to be an ardent follower of the series to be thoroughly entertained, all of which reveal a budding theater-maker,” wrote the New York Stage Review.
Did I mention that Jonathan Hogue is getting his masters degree at Columbia? Yes, though he was raised in Seattle, Hogue–who has been here since 2015–is part of a prestigious MFA program, comprising classes on producing, marketing, diversity, legal issues, budgeting and libretto writing. “This degree is allowing me to get the full scope of how this theater industry runs so that I can make smart, informed decisions in my future producing work,” he says. “I love having both the creative inspiration and the business savvy to not only create exciting new theatre, but also to sustain it in such a turbulent market. This program has really opened doors for me, and I’m excited to see what the future holds!”
One of his professors, the musical theatre librettist and lyricist Michael Korie, (Grey Gardens) admits he has not previously had a student with a current hit on a New York stage. He realized right away that Hogue “is very inner directed. He knows the kinds of shows he wants to do and he’s learning how to get it done.” Right now, students are working on their next projects and Hogue –with Korie’s help—is focusing on the Academy Awards. Those who walk the red carpet—beware!
Where does this endearing and talented young man hope to be in a year’s time? “Finishing my degree and working on my next show,” he says. “And I hope to see Stranger Sings opening in other theatres across the country, even internationally. But I’m here to stay on the Upper West, at least until work takes me elsewhere.”
The show is performing at Playhouse 46 at St. Lukes on W. 46th street. If you want to hear it before or after, there is now an album available on Spotify. Not bad for a guy who could only hum the tunes.
Michele Willens’ “Stage Right..or Not” airs weekly on the NPR affiliate robinhoodradio.