11:00 am EDT, May 2, 2018

‘Solve-It Squad’ NYC review: StarKid spinoff triumphantly debuts Off-Broadway

By Irvin K

Fans of geeky stage productions in New York City are in for an absolute treat, as several members of Team StarKid present a brief Off-Broadway run of their Scooby-Doo parody.

Three members of Team StarKid – Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal, and Corey Lubowich – comprise the Tin Can Bros. The Tin Can Bros are a chance to branch out, as they produce all manner of things instead of just musicals: short films, web series, and now an Off-Broadway play!

But the trio’s StarKid roots are still very apparent in what they do – both the subject matter (parodies) and the humor will be familiar to StarKids who choose to follow this offshoot. Two years ago, they impressed with Spies are Forever, a gorgeous musical that’s as good as anything Team StarKid’s produced. So we didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket to check out The Solve-It Squad.

The Solve-It Squad is a parody of one of the most iconic cartoons ever, Scooby-Doo. In an unusual move, it’s not a musical, but a straight play (with a Solve-It Squad theme song to open and close the show). Full disclosure: this writer was never a fan of Scooby-Doo, but attended the show with four big fans of the cartoon.

Impressively, the show works on both levels. I could appreciate the humor and the story on its own, but my friends waxed rhapsodic about all the clever homages included in the show. And even I’ve seen enough footage of the cartoon peripherally to appreciate the spot-on visual gags present in the stage production: those hoping for a chase scene will be nothing short of thrilled.

As is typical for a production with no major financial backing – not even a Kickstarter – the cast is small and keeps busy. Joey Richter likes to point out that this show can fit inside four suitcases, and it’s very impressive just how far they make those four suitcases stretch.

The hardest working member of the cast is Brian Rosenthal, who plays “everyone else” aside from the core four of the Scooby Gang. He is constantly running back and forth to swap out costume accessories and props, affecting goofy accents, and even acting against himself in a comedically frantic scene that had audiences roaring with laughter. Brian Rosenthal deserves an ovation just for not keeling over midway through the show.

As usual, the scene-stealer is Lauren Lopez, playing a caricature of Velma hopped up on enough drugs to kill an elephant. (And before dismissing that creative choice, know that it is explored and there is a good in-universe explanation for it.) Lauren Lopez gets an epic monologue at the end that leaves even her fellow cast mates looking impressed – moreover, her stage chemistry opposite Joey Richter is as fun and natural as it was nine years ago in “Granger Danger.”

Joey Richter is a revelation in The Solve-It Squad, because he plays against type to be the straight man (parodying Shaggy), and lets others take on the comedy. He has perfected the goofy sidekick/goofy villain/goofy whatever character, but here he proves he can excel as a lead and leave the comic relief to the others.

Solve-It Squad has a surprisingly dark premise, leaving Richter’s character full of pain. Richter keeps adding small inflection to his voice that just makes your heart break a little for him, even as you’re laughing at the absurdity of what’s going on. Mid-show, Richter gets to deliver a really harsh diatribe to the other characters, and one could have heard a pin drop in the theater as he hurls hurtful barbs at the rest of the Scooby Gang.

Rounding out the cast are Ashley Clements and Gabe Greenspan as the Daphne/Fred members of the Squad, and they are both a delight to watch. Clements plays her character cartoonishly vapid, whereas Greenspan’s character manages to be appallingly dumb yet sort of sympathetic all at once. Both fit right in among the StarKids, and seem to be having a blast.

The script, when it’s not making the audiences laugh with a very wide breadth of humor, actually has some interesting things to say about adults trying to relive former glory. It’s another excellent project from the Tin Can Bros – if Solve-It Squad and Spies are Forever is indicative of their future oeuvre, we’ll be very impressed indeed. In the meantime, The Solve-It Squad is running all days except Tuesdays at The Barrow Group Theater until May 12. Although the show is available online, there is no replacement for seeing it live in a theater, with an audience of fellow fans laughing with you.

For more information about the show, and to buy tickets, visit the Tin Can Bros’ website.

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