Theater production inspires '90s nostalgia

BY JULIA JESSEN | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Only one decade embraces Nirvana, ripped jean shorts, Matchbox 20, and the famous Britney Spears schoolgirl outfit. All of these '90s classics will flood the Cosmo Catalano Acting Studio this weekend.

High School Hero: The Story of Charlie Cooper and How He Stopped the Devil From Eating His Head is a play stuffed with pop-culture references from the decade of the Spice Girls and "Full House."


"For everyone who grew up in the '90s, it's almost like watching nostalgia," said writer and director Mark Smolyar.

High School Hero will première at 8 p.m. today in 172 Theatre Building. Admission is $5, free for UI students with valid IDs.

The play features Charlie Cooper, a high-school loser with everything in his life working against him. The character decides to break out and take control of his story.

Music is a large part of the play; the characters lip-synch popular songs and perform an original musical number called "F*** the Script" at the end of the show.

"It's essentially a Broadway musical based on the film adaptation of a popular '90s sitcom that doesn't exist in real life," Smolyar said.

The senior theater major said he isn't trying to force a lesson on the audience — rather, he wants the play to show that everything doesn't always have to make sense.

High School Hero also has a theme of living life by one's own rules.

Sophomore theater major Thomas Eslinger, who plays Charlie, said he hopes that message sticks with the audience as they leave the Theatre Building.

"They should step back, look at their lives, and make sure that they're really living them for themselves and not just following the script they think they should be," he said.

Junior theater and English major Emily Brink plays Kat, one of the forces working against Charlie.

"The character that I play is a girl who is definitely not very modest, and she's not very smart, but she's definitely really funny to watch because she's so dumb," she said.

Brink also designed the costumes for the show, including her own outfit of a black pleated skirt, white button-down blouse tied up above her navel, and knee-high socks inspired by Britney Spears's "Hit Me Baby One More Time" music video.

"I didn't realize that costume design was going to be so great, but once I started getting the costumes on the actors and saw how excited they were about their costume, I was like, 'This is a really good fit for me,' " she said.

Smolyar said the play will appeal to a wide audience because it just strives to have fun.

"I think High School Hero is really a play for people who don't normally enjoy theater," he said. "It's theater that makes fun of itself and asks, 'Why do we have to be so serious? Why can't we just make sex and poop jokes and dance?' "

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