There’s something deeply, deeply engaging about a musical on a very, very small stage. Sitting in the front row of Bubble Boy the Musical, I could smell...vinyl. It’s not something that I would have expected to be a pleasant experience, but I could smell the inflatables. Bubble Boy’s suit had a big, cuddly rubbery sort of thing going on. I smell the vinyl of an inflatable cow a few a few seconds before it appeared onstage. (Yeah: it’s...it’s a weird show.) It's kind of strange, but the heart of the musical is firmly planted in a sweetly engaging, little romantic comedy. It’s sweet, traditional coming-of-age romance with a bit of social satire lovingly tossed-in.
Joey Chelius is charmingly engaging as Jimmy Livingston: a boy born without an immune system. Jimmy quickly grows from cabbage patch doll, to child to teenager. He is vigilantly watched-over by an overprotective mother (Jennifer Larsen) and her silent husband (Mike Shelby.) All seems perfectly safe and childproof until a girl moves-in next door. Chloe Molinski is a bit creeped-out by Jimmy until a casual conversation with a couple of friends prompts her to walk over and introduce herself.
Jimmy goes through quite a transformation over the course of the story. His very, very dramatic journey is contrasted against Chloe’s far more nuance but no less dramatic coming-of-age. Rae Elizabeth Paré summons a deeply enchanting and cleverly intricate performance as Chloe. The script packs a hell of a lot of teen frustration into Chloe’s end of the story. She is seen going through a big move, going to prom, falling in love, getting drunk, getting married and well...I mean...it’s a LOT. The weirdness of it all shooting by so quickly in contrast to a kid who is never allowed to leave his room could easily clutter-up the more sophisticated ends of any performance in a show like this, but Paré deftly finds the emotional center of every moment.
The romance doesn’t allow for a whole lot of time between Paré and Chelius, but the two actors make the most of every scene together. Director Eric Welch conducts the movement across the stage in a way that amplifies a feeling of distance between the two characters even as the actors themselves are on opposite ends of one of the smallest stages in the greater Milwaukee area. A simple run-through of all the plot elements in this weird travel adventure would sound like a colossal mess, but Welch keeps it all rolling with a beautiful fluidity. It’s fun. It’s weird. It’s love. At times it’s utterly gorgeous. It’s Bubble Boy.
Bombshell Theatre Company’s production of Bubble Boy the Musical continues through Apr. 10 at Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd. St. in West Allis. For ticket reservations and more, visit Bombshell Theatre online.