by Irvin K

Exclusive
Image: David O'Neill

For fans of monsters, graphic novels, and Lightning Thief composer Rob Rokicki, there’s an exciting new CD/graphic novel combo released this Friday: Monstersongs.

This is Rob Rokicki’s follow-up to The Lightning Thief Musical, a passion project six years in the making. It’s an album accompanied by a 70-page graphic novel by David O’Neill (a well-known children’s book illustrator). Currently, the graphic novel is only available as a PDF, but the artwork deserves to become a real book one of these days.

We spoke with Rob Rokicki about the album, and he described it thus: “Monstersongs is a graphic novel rock album; it’s designed to be a theatrical experience, a multimedia experience. It examines monsters from their point of view. And each of the monsters has different artwork that accompanies them, each in a different style, and each song that the monsters have is in a slightly different genre that reflects the monster we’re examining.” The CD has 12 songs on it, each from the point of view of a different monster.

Connecting all the different monsters and songs is that each song serves as an examination of love. One of Rokicki’s favorite songs is “The Plan”: “The idea of unrequited love, that’s Igor singing about how much he wants to be with Dr. Frankenstein but it’s never going to work out.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s “Down and Under” about a bridge troll who just rages against a world that’s turned its back on him. It turns out monsters have a lot of feelings! And Rokicki assembled a good group of Broadway actors to bring each monster to life.

Here at Hypable, we’re debuting an exclusive music video for the catchiest song on the album, “Footprints,” about a really sweet relationship between a Sasquatch and a yeti. It’s sung by Rokicki himself alongside fellow composer Joe Iconis (Be More Chill), who co-wrote the tune. (Iconis told Rokicki to pursue the idea of the album, so this writer is very grateful to him.) Have a listen!

In terms of individual songs, the album definitely gets stronger as it goes along, and is infinitely more rewarding if listened to all the way through. This writer was most impressed by how the two best songs on the album — Medusa’s “Say Goodbye” and the doppelganger’s “I’m Sorry” — work as mirrors of each other. In Rokicki’s own words, “I’m Sorry” is about the “duplicitous nature of someone with two sides to themselves, who can’t shut off the bad side; an examination of a Jekyll & Hyde figure, but it wasn’t Jekyll and Hyde.” “Say Goodbye” examines “What if we took Medusa seriously? And heard from her point of view, as someone who’s unable to love themselves?”

Both are about a monster who can’t help destroying anyone who might love them, Medusa with her gaze and the doppelganger with his evil side. Yet the titles are a prime example of irony. In “Say Goodbye,” Medusa actually tries to convince her lover to flee to safety and save himself. In “I’m Sorry,” the doppelganger keeps saying, “I’m sorry,” but does not actually do anything to stop killing women. (There’s also definitely something to explore here in terms of how different genders deal with similar situations; the woman tries to be selfless and save the man, while the man is selfish and keeps destroying women.)

Though they mirror each other, the songs could not be more different. “Say Goodbye” is a beautiful ballad (think Adele) that is perhaps the most emotional song on the album, sung to the rafters by Katrina Rose Dideriksen. It also has some of the cleverest lyrics, where almost every line has a double meaning: “I’ll make it so hard, make it so hard to leave,” because she’ll turn him into stone.

“I’m Sorry” is definitely the scariest song on the album, as you are taken into the mind of a serial killer. It’s jarring, because you’ve just spent eight tracks empathizing with monsters… and then you come to one that you don’t even want to empathize with, but you’re already in a sympathetic headspace. Rokicki deliberately messed with listeners’ minds: “F. Michael Haynie is such a great pop singer, and so charming. Wouldn’t that be the most terrifying idea for a killer? Someone who is this charming ladies’ man and likable.”

As for the other songs, there’s a lot of variety to please different listeners. For example, “Blood and Brains,” a 1960s girl group number, is about a teenage zombie and teenage vampire dating the same jock in high school. Rokicki says, “Their hormones are going nuts, [it’s an] examination of all-consuming love at that age: they’re both consuming his blood or brains. And they’re just bleeding him dry.”

There are several epic diva numbers, for those who just want to hear a Broadway star belt her face off. In another bit of irony, the album’s only household name — Megan Hilty (Smash, Wicked, 9 to 5) — plays a ghost who’s invisible to the person she yearns for. There’s a backstory to how Rob Rokicki landed such a big star for Monstersongs: “Part of the other reason this album happened was Megan Hilty, who my wife Amanda Flynn had understudied in Wicked, and I used to bartend with her husband back in the day. I was going through a hard time a couple years ago, and she said, ‘If you write a song, I’ll sing on your album.’ That meant a lot to me… that she would believe in me, someone whom I respect and who has such clout. So I wrote the song specifically with Megan in mind, as the idea of apathy, which is one of the most painful things in terms of love. The ghost who can’t be seen but keeps trying to get noticed.”

On the third big diva number, Julia Murney as a witch (a familiar witch to those who saw her as Wicked’s Elphaba) declares that she is “judge and jury” and that “hell hath no fury,” as she goes after her victim. As Rokicki says, “She brings a gravitas to it, and enjoys it so much! Just toying with her prey… It’s so scary, I love it.”

This is an album where the lyrics are well worth a close listen, for the double meanings and puns that are all over the songs. Consider “Footprints” in the video above: “No one ever believed in me,” sung by a yeti whose parents were unsupportive. Or on the punny side, there’s “Reluctantly,” an adorable song about a dragon reluctant to be destructive (sung by one of the best child actors currently on Broadway, Luca Padovan of School of Rock and Marvin’s Room). This writer got a good chuckle out of “I tried making friends with a knight just the other day.”

Rob Rokicki writes musicals, so the album works on more levels if listened all the way through. In particular, that gives extra oomph to the last song, inspired by Fantasia’s “Night on Bald Mountain.” Rokicki said, “My parents took me to [Fantasia] when I was really little and it scared the crap out of me. I love the idea that the monsters have had their heyday and receding back into the dark as the dawn approaches. There’s something mysterious and beautiful and sad about it, and I wanted to capture that in a big orchestral sound, so I think I have over 30 tracks of instruments on it. After you’ve experienced the whole gamut of emotions from the monsters’ side, you’re maybe a little more empathetic toward them.”

There will be a live concert celebrating the album on October 30 in New York City’s The Cutting Room. Most of the singers on the album are expected to reprise their roles, and Rokicki promises projections of the artwork and a few surprise songs thrown in for a really fun experience. Tickets are available for $15 here.

If you want to listen to Monstersongs (and what could be more appropriate at this time of year?), the album is available from Broadway Records.

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