Superhero movies are going through a rough patch. Screenwriters of recent box office flops would do well to take in the joyful energy of Push the Button, a hip-hop musical by Drew Anderson and Dwayne Lawson-Brown making its world premiere with D.C.’s Keegan Theatre. Push the Button is a superhero tale that’s pop-art colorful, incredibly easy to follow, and still a thoughtful fable on systemic injustice.
The musical opens with Hero (Quincy Vicks), a Superman-like protector of the city with braggadocio to spare. His antithesis is Villain (Tre’mon Mills), an evil mastermind who’s currently awaiting trial for “pushing the button” — an apparently horrible act that initially isn’t explained. An enterprising Journalist (Ashanti Symone Branch) is digging into the case, much to the dismay of the Judge (Gary DuBreuil).
Push the Button’s plot is so archetypal, you’ll see plot twists coming a mile away, but the show still succeeds due to anarchic, megawatt performances. Vicks and Mills bring verve to the show’s songs, made up of rap verses that sample artists like Jeezy, Billie Eilish, and Silk Sonic. Director Duane Richards II successfully leans into the camp elements of the production, creating a storybook world that feels borne out of a frenetic fear.
Fear does creep into the story: the song “Lock ‘Em Up” is lyrically brutal, and a monologue performed by Branch is a haunting exploration of familial guilt. Push the Button may exist because of the writer duo’s open mic history, but I wonder what would happen if they stripped away the show’s sonic layers. Anderson and Lawson-Brown have written prescient words that deserve to be heard beyond the realm of musical parody.
Push the Button’s relentlessly straightforward quality could prove frustrating to audiences, but the story is performed so boldly that it’s hard to quibble about narrative simplicity. Superhero stories are often the most complex when dealing with the elemental human emotion — and Push the Button thoughtfully engages in this contradiction.