Team Edward! Team Jacob! Before a January 16 developmental reading of Twilight: The Musical, ushers warmed up an already enthusiastic crowd at New World Stages with a cheer-off, pitting “the girliest screams for the sparkliest man” against wolf-inspired howling. There was singing. There was dancing. There was a half-vampire baby born on stage, and a grown werewolf that fell in love with it. Such is the magic of Twilight.
The one-night-only benefit event, featuring a book and lyrics by Ashley Griffin, music by four composers, and direction by Gabriel Barre, crammed the teenage vampire saga of the Twilight book series into a two-hour show, with a little Harry Potter thrown in for good measure. You read that right: Instead of the book’s rival group of evil vampires led by the vicious Victoria, the Twilight kids square off against the three stars of Harry Potter, led by a Hermione Granger incensed that “we’re not the most popular teen saga anymore.” Things didn't end that well for the Potter pals, but hey, this really isn't their story.
Some Twilight basics, for the truly uninitiated: Angsty teenager Bella Swan moves to sun-free Forks, Washington, and falls in love with the even angstier “teenager” Edward Cullen, who is beautiful and brooding and a vampire. Bella’s friend Jacob Black, a werewolf, is also in love with her. Vampires and werewolves don't get along. Don’t worry, there is a song called “Supernatural Love Triangle.”
With only eight actors and a grand total of 24 hours of rehearsal time, Griffin and Barre had to count on a cast who “have comic chops, are wonderful singers and actors and do angst really well,” according to Griffin. The talented group included Next to Normal vet Meghann Fahy as Bella, Colin Hanlon as Edward and Jared Zirilli as Jacob, with Broadway vet Jenna Leigh Green as “Angela/Rosalie/Hermione/Leah/Esme,” A Very Potter Musical alum Lauren Lopez as “Alice/Jessica/Renesmee/Jane” and Jeffry Denman, Olli Haaskvili and Jason Michael Snow in too many roles to count. There were a lot of wigs.
There were also sight gags a-plenty: The band did double duty as vampire powers-that-be the Volturi, a square image of printed grass let Bella and Edward “lie” in their meadow (while standing up), the wolf pack went shirtless “for no known apparent reason.” Edward even sparkled, with a little help from a spangly Lycra bodysuit.
As leading lady Bella, Fahy deadpanned her way across the stage in sneakers and a hoodie. "There are so many Kristen Stewart-isms that I adore, ” Twilight fan Fahy told Broadway.com after the show. "Like—how do I say this?—being perplexed by your own thoughts," she said with a laugh. "Because they’re just so huge that you can’t even say them." There was, however, a part of Bella that came totally naturally. “I'm on Team Edward,” she said. “Absolutely, no question. I’m into pale skinny dudes.”
How does one prepare to play a pale, skinny heartthrob like Robert Pattinson? “I don’t look like him, so I had to pick out a couple of his little quirks,” Hanlon said of sexy bloodsucker Edward. “Like, he always has his head down, and he’s always standing over [Bella] in kind of an intimidating way, and every word out of his mouth is like he’s trying to do Shakespeare and...it’s not," he said. "The more seriously you can take that character, that’s what makes it funny.”
To play Native American werewolf Jacob, who has the pleasure of singing "I Imprinted on An Infant," Zirilli had a different tactic. “I was like, I’m going to stop eating, because [film star Taylor Lautner] doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his body,” the actor joked. “I was at the gym like, 'You’re not done yet! Taylor Lautner wasn’t done yet!'” Zirilli started the show wearing what looked like a Cher wig styled in a half-ponytail, which he later shed, along with his shirt (of course), to complete Jacob’s transformation from childhood friend to sexy man-wolf. Add some "brooding intensity” to that impressive body fat percentage, and “That’s Jacob in a nutshell.”
Whether you love Twilight or hate it, "It’s hard not to respect what they've accomplished," director Barre said. "I’m fascinated, not only with the material itself, but with its popularity. Billions and billions of dollars later, you can't argue with that." In this case, the team decided to use that popularity for good. The sold-out reading raised more than $3,000 for Blessings in a Backpack, an organization that makes sure elementary schoolers whose families qualify for Free and Reduced Price Meal program have enough to eat on weekends, as well.
That's certainly a happy ending, but does this story have a moral, as well? As the show comes to a close, Harry Potter lays it on thick, telling Bella, "You were willing to sacrifice everything to get a boyfriend. In the end, you destroyed yourself." OK, maybe. Zirilli feels the message is, "Be careful what you become obsessed with," while Fahy went with, "It's about what we as humans think will complete us, if we’re gonna get real deep about it!" But seriously folks: "What we just did is so ridiculous," she said, "and really, that’s the reason it works." Stay tuned as Twilight: The Musical continues its developmental journey.