Third Street Theatre at first glance appears to be putting on a typical show about high school. The nerd is picked on by popular kids who aren't too comfortable in their own skin. The principal doesn't understand his students, or his son. One mom is trying a little to hard to be the cool parent. A few other adults get the plight of the teenager, but one recent college graduate is overwhelming by career woes and a dad who doesn't see the point of his art.
But here's what's different: As personal problems grow more intense, a few of the players find solace when colorful, friendly ponies appear on their television sets.
After an award-winning appearance at last summer's Hollywood Fringe Festival, Bronies: The Musical opened in West Hollywood in late September, with performances ongoing until Nov. 1. The musical, with book and lyrics by Tom Moore and Heidi Powers, is based on a real world phenomenon. Bronies are teen and adult, usually male, fans of My Little Pony. The fan community came into existence after the debut of television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and has blossomed over the past few years to include fan-made art and music based on the show. Brony conventions have taken place across the U.S. and, to date, the subculture has been the focus of two separate documentary films.
Husband and wife team Moore and Powers got the idea from their niece and nephew, teenage twins who made the couple sit down and watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic over a holiday visit. “They were the first Bronies that we spent time with,” says Powers. “They were so into it and so enthusiastic and passionate.”
Powers and Moore understood that excitement. They are both fans of Joss Whedon's landmark TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, when they began dating, they watched that show's seventh season DVD together.
Back in Los Angeles, Moore and Powers, whose previous project was Real Housekeepers of Studio City, were working with their collaborator, composer Joe Greene, on ideas for a new musical. They came up empty-handed until Powers mentioned that holiday spent with Brony relatives. Green thought this was their musical. Powers agreed. “It took all of 10 seconds to convince Tom,” she adds.
Bronies delves into the lives of three fans of “the pony show” who, for various reasons, have to keep their interest a secret. They try to meet people who are like them, but online friendships are complicated by IRL worries like bullying. Meanwhile, the ponies from the TV show appear as sequin-clad, puppet-holding women whose big voices help move the plot forwards. They are, as Moore calls them, the “Pony Greek Chorus.”
For research, they watched the documentary Bronies:The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. They hung out on message boards, investigating Internet corners like 4Chan and Equestria Daily. Friends, introduced the couple to MLP fans. Their Brony muses provided some quick inspiration. A month or so after conceiving the idea, they had finished the first song. In three months, they wrote the first version of Bronies: The Musical. Early this past summer, they brought the production to Hollywood Fringe, where it won Best Musical.
By this time, Moore and Powers realized that they weren't just working on a musical about a fan community. They had become fans themselves. In the midst of the Hollywood Fringe bustle, they unwound by watching episodes of Friendship is Magic. “It was such a stress relief,” says Powers.
And it's not just the musical's writers who were sucked into the world of Bronies. Some of the actors have fallen for the show as well. Molly Gilman plays Paige, a “pegasister,” or female MLP fan, who befriends the play's nerdy protagonist on a message board. “I just finished season 2 [of Friendship Is Magic] and am totally on board,” she says.
Powers says that, while casting, they asked the actors about their interests. “We have a theory that everybody's got the thing that makes them weird, which is not weird at all,” she says. They wanted to make sure that they had actors who could understand the characters, whether or not they actually knew anything about Bronies.
They found those actors. Gilman talks openly about her experiences role-playing online. Stephanie Hayslip, who plays White Pony, has an interest in Lord of the Rings and fan fiction. The backgrounds of the creators and cast is part of what makes the musical so fun. It's not a fan production, but it's made by people with a genuine interest in, and empathy for, the people who inspired it.
As for the two teenage Bronies who inspired the musical, they appear in a slideshow at the end of the performance. Moore and Powers' niece and nephew were able to see the show at Hollywood Fringe as well. “It was really special for me to have all of our cast and crew really embrace them and I think it meant a lot to them,” says Powers. “It certainly meant a lot to me.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong spelling of the name Joe Greene. We regret the error.
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