Cover photo: Jasmine Amy Rogers as Betty Boop in BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical. Photo by Mark Seliger.
STOP THE PRESSES! Betty Boop has booped her way into the real world. Her entrance is bright, fearless…and it’s certainly not 2D.
Chicago was all a-buzz last night as it played host to the world premiere of BOOP! The Musical, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, with book by Bob Martin, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, and music by David Foster. Everyone was there, the CIBC Theatre packed and cameras flashing. The energy in the room was as vivacious as our beloved cartoon powerhouse Betty herself.
We are transported back in time as the lights fade and all colors turn black and white. Like jumping inside the original cartoon, the animated projections that place us inside the Betty universe extend out into the set design–everything crafted with a whimsical flare and in the soft gray tones that jolt us back to the 1930s. The flawless response between the projections and illusions embedded in the set bring television magic to the physical stage. And added to that magic is the incredible marionette wizardry of Phillip Huber, who expressively imbues Pudgy the dog with adoring character.
Burdened by fame and wondering who she really might be after assuming so many roles in her career as an actor, Betty hops into Grampy’s time machine and escapes straight into the colorful and vibrant New York City. She befriends a young girl, Trisha, who aspires to be an artist and a trumpeter, Dwayne, who becomes smitten with her talents, charms, and love of jazz music.
With the electrifying lighting and the Boop-specific, beautifully crafted costuming, everything about the show screams “classic” Broadway. You get songs about the bright lights of NYC, big brass sounds, and tip tapping toes of swinging jazz. But the concept behind the show is completely original: How does a cartoon come to life?
For one, the actors behind the characters based in the cartoon world play vocal gymnastics as their words dance in peaks and valleys, just as those silly voices do in old animations. But it’s Jasmine Amy Rogers who dominates as she takes on all of Betty’s famed characteristics–her puckered voice, her curly hair, and her bouncing gait. She breathes new life into Betty as a woman who was once just ink on a page discovers what it’s like to find true passion and love as a human. You can’t help but fall completely for Rogers’ performance.
Even more, the complete ensemble is filled with talented Broadway veterans. They help set the stage as we jump from Betty’s old black and white world to 2023 in New York, keeping rhythm with classic tap and jazz sequences, as well as sprinkling in the dance styles of the clubs and streets that have evolved from those roots. This ensemble maintains explosive engagement, never letting the audience drift.
And it’s hard not to adore the relationships that blossom between all the main characters. Betty transforms from idolized role model to empowering friend for the young Trisha–played by “America’s Got Talent” star Angelica Hale (who, by the way, belts out her solo number “Portrait of Betty” with unwavering and impressive strength).
Then, there are the comically delightful Grampy and his lover Valentina sharing a youthful romance after 40 years of separation and a time-space barrier. Stephen DeRosa’s quick-talking and enthusiastic Grampy gives a great buoyancy to the show, and Tony Award-Winning Faith Prince as Valentina is quippy and bitingly fun.
We also get to witness Betty’s own love story with Dwayne; it’s a heartwarming win for the cartoon woman who is already making strides personally–and even aiding politically–in the Big Apple. Ainsley Anthony Melham's Dwayne is passionate, sweet, and brings a bold groove as Betty's perfect match.
But in the end, it’s about one woman who lifts up others as she rediscovers herself. She’s an icon, she’s a star, and she’s made us sure not to forget it. Betty is back, and just like that…BOOP! It’s already a hit.
The production will run through December 24, 2023. For more information, visit https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/shows/boop-the-musical/.