SHARING AMERICA'S TECH NEWS FROM THE VALLEY TO THE ALLEY
If you know who Jonathan Mann is, it’s probably because at some point you’ve followed the Song A Day experiment he’s been conducting on YouTube since 2009. Or maybe you know him as GameJew, the moniker he adopted in 2006 when he first started posting first-person comedy, music and commentary videos based on his love of old-school video games. Either way, what you need to know now is that, in 2005, before he started churning ‘em out on the regular for millions of subscribers, he wrote his real opus: a rock opera dedicated to one of the loves of his life, Super Mario Bros.
At the time, he was attending the California Institute of the Arts and living in Santa Clarita, California, so its production was relegated to the school stage as seen in the above video; now he’s grown up, living in Brooklyn, and with the help of a couple friends he made after his Song-a-Day campaign blew up, he’s resurrecting The Mario Opera on a New York stage.
“I wrote a theme song for [Instapaper founder Marco Arment’s] ‘The Accidental Tech Podcast’ as part of my Song A Day process. They started using it, and not long after, [Mario Opera producer] Steven Tartick contacted me,” writes Mann in an email to WIRED, explaining why the opera is getting a second chance. “He was doing social media for Alan Cummings’ one-man Macbeth on Broadway, and wanted me to write a two-minute Macbeth recap song. At a lunch meeting he [told me] he’s a huge Mario fan and asked me about the opera.”
A month later, Tartick had secured a date at New York City venue Joe’s Pub for Mann to stage a first-act reading of his eight-year-old spectacular. “Then I just had to build the show from scratch,” says Mann. Within a month, Mann had enlisted the post-punk New Jersey outfit The Everymen as the Official Mario Back-Up Band, with the help of his college friend (and The Everymen vocalist) Catherine Herrick.
The story is a familiar one: “Mario, a reluctant hero in a strange world, sets out to rescue his betrothed princess from the Koopa army,” Mann writes on the performance’s Facebook event page. “Upon realizing the repetitive familiarity of his adventure, [he] is lead [sic] to an existential crisis about being a character in a videogame.” He’s updated the story from its 2005 version, tweaking parts that “read very immature” (“I had some nasty bits about Bowser and the Princess [Peach] that I decided to tone down”) and giving it a general musical facelift with the chops he’s developed over eight years of writing songs every day.
As for what happens after the initial reading, Mann says that though he hasn’t been approached by anyone in the theater world yet, though he would love to see Mario Opera as a full-blown stage production.
“The reaction to the Mario Opera is, and has always been, overwhelmingly positive,” says Mann. “My ultimate goal at this point is to give the thing a proper run. I’d love to have it be a long-running thing at a small club, where it just [runs] every weekend for a really long time, something that Mario fans and fans of old-school games in general can come from all over to see. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this [music performance-meets-video game] space, obviously, but I think that everyone is into what everyone else is doing.”
The Mario Opera doesn’t seem to be on Nintendo’s radar yet, but given Mann’s plans for the opera, it’s only a matter of time. Mann remains extremely optimistic about how the gaming publisher might respond.
“[We’ll] do it until they notice … and love it, and decide to give us their blessing. And a lot of money.”
Tickets for the all-ages show, which goes up at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night, can be purchased here for $15.