Theatre may finally be embracing its inner nerd. Producing science fiction and fantasy on stage has always been a difficult sell; disasters like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark just prove how easily special effects-driven shows can go haywire. But not every nerdy play or musical has to have a great deal of SFX. It’s true that a lot of them do and certainly, some on this list utilize special effects. But it’s not required by any means, and a lot of playwrights and theatre-makers are getting around magic and the “science” of science fiction on the stage.
Here’s a top five of some of the most notable nerdy plays and musicals to come out in recent years.
5. The Lightning Thief
Based on the Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief recently debuted on Broadway. It’s a pretty straight adaptation, but enjoyable for the target audience of the books–kids! Indeed, it might be the one truly kid-friendly work on this list. But if you’re looking for a musical that’s all about kid demigods, this is your spot.
4. She Kills Monsters and nearly anything else by Qui Nguyen
She Kills Monsters is a play with heart all about Dungeons and Dragons. When her sister dies, Agnes discovers her DnD journal and embarks on a fantastic adventure. This isn’t playwright Qui Nguyen’s only nerd-focused play—far from it. Six Rounds of Vengeance takes place in a post-apocalyptic vegas—shades of Fallout: New Vegas, anyone? Begets: Fall of a High School Ronin is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin–a geeky girl attempting to fight back against the shoguns of her high school. Nguyen’s plays are all about disrupting the status quo…and isn’t that part of what being a nerd is all about?
The original mainstream nerd musical, Wicked‘s been around on Broadway since 2003, and it shows no signs of slowing down. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of the friendship between the glamorous Galinda (who will become Glinda the Good Witch) and the “green-ified” Elphaba (who will become The Wicked Witch of the West). It’s a musical full of Easter eggs for fans of the original fantasy series (and the original film). However, it’s also accessible to a non-fantasy familiar audience. Good fun (and tragedy, in the end) all around.
2. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Sure, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s story may have gotten baffled reviews from fans, but it’s still a special effects masterpiece and a fun time at the theatre, which is pretty much what you ask from Harry Potter. Using time travel again isn’t a terrible device, after all, seeing as it was pre-established in the HP universe. The acting’s good, and it won a bunch of Tony Awards and gets big grosses at the box office. It may be imperfect, but Harry Potter and the Cursed Child works on nearly every level—and is encouraging the proliferation of nerd theatre.
1: Marjorie Prime
Marjorie Prime was actually one of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalists, making it a landmark in theatre by and for nerds. Definitely a science fiction play, it explores what happens when an Alzheimer’s patient is given an AI in the image of her dead husband to keep her memories alive. It’s a beautiful piece of work and was also adapted into a movie; so if you’re not comfortable reading plays (it’s not for everyone!), or you can’t find a production, you can always rent the movie. I would definitely check it out, especially if you have any interest in artificial intelligence and the ethical concerns surrounding this exciting new field of technology.
Nerdy works of theatre only promise to grow in the coming years, and you can usually find productions anywhere in the country; Harry Potter and Wicked might be hard to find, but there’s plenty of other plays and musicals that can catch your interest!