As the curtain rises on Claudio Quest it takes us no time to know where we are; the distinctive blue skies with white puffy clouds, and the bright brick squares floating over the ground give it away almost instantly, we’re inside that video game that we used to devote entire weekends to as children. In fact when a childlike creature announces we’re about to meet our hero, he explains that it’s a man “that needs no introduction”, because he’s of course Claudio Quest (CJ Eldred) the oldest sibling in a duo of electrician brothers who keep the eggplant kingdom safe from evil platypus Bruiser (Andre Ward) who keeps kidnapping the charming Princess Poinsettia (Lesley McKinnell).
All of the characters in this world seem resigned with the specific roles they keep playing over and over again, after all their life is ruled by the god with the controller, in this case a little girl (in what is just one of many brilliant progressive touches in the show) who sits in front of the TV to send our heroes in yet another quest. Knowing where their stories will take them has made life especially dull for two beings; Luis (Ethan Slater) and Princess Fish (Lindsey Brett Carothers), the younger siblings of Claudio and Poinsettia respectively, for whom life has become too repetitive, not to mention disappointing since they’re always runners-up when compared to their elder siblings.
However when Princess Poinsettia is kidnapped again, things go slightly different as Princess Fish decides she’s had enough waiting around, puts on a disguise and joins Claudio and Luis on their quest. This unexpected twist changes the entire dynamic of the game and soon Princess Fish and Luis will find themselves putting everything they know to the test, as they are forced by the circumstances to become the heroes of the story. With music, book and lyrics by Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet, Claudio Quest is the rare work that manages to bring together video games, existentialism and musical theatre, and should satisfy lovers of each in equal measures.
The synth-filled score seems to have been inspired by Chess as much as it was by the iconic scores of the classic Nintendo games it lovingly spoofs. While the famous Japanese brand is never directly mentioned, one needs very little video game knowledge to understand the references, as they are broad and diverse. Best of all is the character development which sees Pailet and Fornarola combine elements from various beloved characters to turn them into new creatures that contain the best of them all, while celebrating what made the originals so unique in the first place.
Take Claudio for instance, his name not only rhymes with the iconic plumber from the Nintendo video games, but he also sports an overall done in Mega Man-blue, has the cocky attitude of Star Fox and as played by Eldred he recalls the impossibly handsome Link of The Legend of Zelda (Eldred’s cheekbones could vanquish any video game villain!). Directed by John Tartaglia who relishes in quirky DIY-ness and infuses the show with girl power-ness, Claudio Quest feels positively joyous, and with songs that celebrate the need for different heroes, it’s one adventure we wouldn’t mind experiencing over and over.