Stranger Sings!’ Turns the Hit Netflix Series ‘Upside Down’

The off-Broadway parody musical is a hilarious experience for fans of ‘Stranger Things’

Off-Broadway parody musical “Stranger Sings!” delights fans and audiences at Playhouse 46.


Off-Broadway parody musical “Stranger Sings!” delights fans and audiences at Playhouse 46.


As anticipation for the fifth and final season of “Stranger Things” grows, “Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical” is the perfect way for fans to enjoy a refreshing and fun take on the beloved sci-fi horror series. Following up its original 2021 NYC run at the Players Theatre, the show has come to Playhouse 46 at St. Luke’s, finding great success and extending its intended January 2023 closing date into March.

Written by Jonathan Hogue and directed by Nick Flatto, the musical primarily adapts the TV show’s first season. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s, the story follows a group of young friends (Mike, Lucas and Dustin) in their search for the missing Will Byers. Accompanied by Will’s mother Joyce, the jaded police chief Hopper and the superpowered human experimentation subject Eleven, they discover a mysterious parallel world called the Upside Down, infested by the monstrous Demogorgon that threatens the peace of their small town. 

“Stranger Sings!” is best enjoyed by those who are well-versed in the source material, as the comedy is highly referential to the television series on a whole. While season one is the main focus, various references are made to the later seasons, such as the Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop from season three and Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” from season four. The play’s structure was somewhat loose, oftentimes trading plot depth and details for gags and fan service. Though this may be slightly confusing for newcomers in the audience, it has proved worthwhile for the greater comedic purpose. 

As a relatively small off-Broadway production, the show cleverly takes advantage of its limited cast and performance space. The actors transition seamlessly through multiple roles; for example, the character of Will hilariously appears as a puppet voiced by Caroline Huerta, who also plays Will’s mother Joyce. “Stranger Sings!” does not shy away from breaking the fourth wall in every creative manner, from occasional audience interactions to an entire song by Joyce referencing Winona Ryder, the actress who plays her in the original series. 

The fourth-wall comedy is facilitated by Walt Spangler’s uniquely immersive set design. The show is staged in the round; the basement theater has been transformed into the Byers home, with the Dungeons & Dragons table as a centerpiece surrounded by the iconic Christmas lights strung around the room and audience members seated on all four sides. There is little separation between performer and viewer, giving the impression that we are right alongside Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Eleven on their paranormal adventure. 

Through the actors’ vibrant and passionate performances, the majority of the characters are adapted humorously yet faithfully to their television counterparts. However, some of the play’s funniest moments come from the more creative liberties taken with characterization. The aforementioned Will puppet, the dancing Demogorgon and a very sexualized Steve Harrington all drew laugh-out-loud moments from the crowd. The cold and intimidating scientist known as “Papa” became a twirling, flamboyant character and his few minutes on the stage were some of the most memorable. Most notably, though, the sidekick character Barb Holland leaps beyond her minor role in the TV show as the overshadowed best friend, surviving her struggle in the Upside Down and stealing Nancy’s spotlight through a dazzling performance by SLee. 

Each and every cast member gets their time to shine, bringing their vocal talents to Jonathan Hogue’s catchy, high-spirited original songs. The opening number “Welcome to Hawkins” introduces the quirky small town where “nothing ever goes wrong”; subsequently, of course, everything goes wrong as Will is pulled into the Upside Down. Other standout tracks include Nancy and Barb’s earworm of a duet “Forever,” in which they cheerfully affirm that “best friends never die” (a nod to Barb’s death in the series), as well as “The Dad I Never Had,” a rare moment of sincerity as Eleven longs for the familial connection she was denied during life in the lab. 

“Stranger Sings!” is a must-see for fans of the sensational Netflix series. As much as the parody thrives in ridiculousness, an earnest passion and love for “Stranger Things” shines through in every aspect of the production. If you have yet to jump on the bandwagon, there’s still time to catch up, as “Stranger Sings!” now runs through March 5, 2023.