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HomeUncategorized'Hazbin Hotel,' A24's premiere animated series, blends terror and musical theater

‘Hazbin Hotel,’ A24’s premiere animated series, blends terror and musical theater

As a youngster, Vivienne Medrano shunned scary movies and anything deemed adult or unsuitable, particularly on the internet, for fear that frightening tales and images held a malevolent power. However, her attitudes shifted during high school.

“I encountered ‘South Park’ for the first time and watched ‘War of the Worlds,’ the Steven Spielberg version,” recounted Medrano, 31. “It wasn’t exactly a horror movie, but it had a very dark and menacing ambiance, particularly for a young person. It made me think, ‘Wow, that evokes a distinct feeling.’”

Fast-forward to 2024, and Medrano, a proud, fiery Latina who identifies as bisexual, has not only become a horror enthusiast but also a creator of horror, serving as the architect, executive producer, and director of Prime Video’s innovative animated horror-comedy show “Hazbin Hotel.” Set to debut on Friday, the eight-episode series, tailored for adults, revolves around Charlie (voiced by Erika Henningsen), the reigning Princess of Hell and Lucifer’s daughter, who establishes a rehabilitation center to aid sinners and demons in transforming into angels before heaven embarks on its annual eradication of Hades’ resident evildoers.

Vivienne Medrano, the architect of “Hazbin Hotel.”

(Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images for Prime Video)

The production arrives five years after Medrano, who operates under the moniker VivziePop, uploaded a 30-minute pilot to her YouTube channel, amassing 93 million views to date. In 2020, the art-house studio A24 inked a deal to produce a complete season – marking their first venture into animated series production – and subsequently gave the green light to a second. Four episodes will be released in the first week, followed by two more each week leading up to February 2.

The “Hazbin Hotel” realm is an audaciously vibrant, queer-inclusive, and fast-paced concoction of extraordinary grotesqueries and abundant profanity, complemented by an astonishingly unexpected Broadway pop score.

The music, crafted by Sam Haft and Andrew Underberg, encompasses traditional yearning melodies and lively dance sequences, such as “A Happy Day in Hell,” the absurdly gory yet optimistic introductory number that introduces Charlie and her fellow denizens of hell.

The voice cast includes reputable Broadway luminaries, with Tony nominees Daphne-Rubin Vega (“Rent”) and Jeremy Jordan (“Newsies the Musical”) in supporting roles, alongside Patina Miller (“Pippin”). Alex Brightman, a two-time Tony nominee, renowned for portraying the titular character in the musical “Beetlejuice,” lends his voice to two roles: Sir Pentious, an elegant evil-genius snake who crafts destructive weaponry while harboring vulnerabilities, and Adam – not just any Adam, but Eve’s companion – a fervent authority figure governing heaven in a dictatorial manner.

Medrano and Brightman recently discussed the intertwined nature of horror and musical theater, the potential existence of hell, and other captivating subjects along the entertainment-existentialist continuum. Their interviews have been edited and condensed.

“Hazbin Hotel” combines elements of musical theater and horror, a blend not frequently seen. Are you enthusiasts of both genres?

Medrano: I have dabbled in performance at an amateur level and hold a deep affection for theater, which continually ignites my inspiration. Simultaneously, I am an avid devotee of horror, drawn to narratives with profound darkness.

Brightman: I have harbored a fondness for horror films since childhood, far too early on. I fault my parents for this. My affinity for musical theater developed when I was just 8. To me, musical theater almost stands as a kind of religion. The characters I portray in “Hazbin” are incredibly bizarre and a stark contrast to my true self. It’s a delight to embody oddballs and outcasts, although my actual disposition is quite warm.

Vivienne, most horror enthusiasts I know are genuinely compassionate individuals. What drives their fondness for frightening elements?

Medrano: As one matures, the sense of childlike wonder diminishes, giving way to a deeper understanding of the world’s darker aspects. Horror serves as an escapade from this reality. I believe this is why many horror aficionados exude kindness; having navigated numerous distressing experiences, they have mastered the art of seeking solace in fiction.

Immersing oneself in horror necessitates a certain level of levity, or else one would risk being tormented indefinitely. It calls for the allowance of discomfort, a step some individuals may not be prepared to take. Yet, horror enthusiasts are willing to adapt. This openness to empathy and forging connections with others holds great significance.

Regarding the music, what did you envision the residents of heaven and hell to sound like?

Medrano: I hold rather discerning tastes in music. I was adamant that the music exudes a certain coherence and hints at a predominantly Broadway-esque vibe. A particular challenge lay in ensuring that each character possesses a distinct musical identity. For instance, in the case of Alex, one character veers towards a rock-inspired theme while the other reflects a bygone Victorian era with a hint of steampunk. Neither of these characters naturally lends itself to a conventional Broadway sound. The soundtrack transitions effortlessly from pop to Latin influences, which is a testament to how skillfully this was executed.

Broadway would be envious of a roster like yours.

Medrano: From the perspective of a theater enthusiast, it’s truly mind-blowing. I vividly recall watching Patina during her performance in “Pippin.” Her talent was indelible, leaving an indelible impression. When it came to casting, she was a top priority. The fact that she accepted our invitation is truly sensational. The cast has left me on cloud nine.

Alex Brightman standing against a black backdrop.

Sir Pentious and Adam in “Hazbin Hotel” are voiced by Alex Brightman.

(Greg Allen / Invision / Associated Press)

Alex, what are the main contrasts you observe between stage and voice acting?

Brightman: The disparities are significant, but there are also more resemblances than you might anticipate. In both, you engage your entire being. In animation, you can slightly withdraw from the choreography, hitting your marks, and being visible from the balcony. The major difference is that you are allowed to make mistakes 500 times. On stage, you only have one opportunity, but you cannot edit, pause, or retry.

As an improv enthusiast, having the opportunity to do alternate takes is fantastic. However, the singular shot in musical theater is exhilarating. I relish the unpredictability.

And, goodness, there is a lot of profanity in this show.

Brightman: [Laughs] I hold the belief that not everything appeals to everyone. If you find profanity offensive, that’s okay. People are entitled to take offense. Nevertheless, I believe that art cannot progress unless we experiment. I am pleased that they have created a show that some may find objectionable, but for others, it could become their favorite.

Vivienne, to what degree do you perceive yourself, similar to Charlie, as a princess of hell?

Medrano: I am a queer woman on the internet who has achieved popularity. You can only imagine. Both of us are in a position of striving against obstacles just to manifest our dreams. Charlie is a character to whom I not only directly relate, but I also think, “She’s so spirited, determined, and lively.” She is a very inspirational character for me.

A cartoon of a snake-like creature wearing a top hat and tuxedo pointing.

Alex Brightman voices the character Sir Pentious.

(Prime Video)

Wear your theology hat: What is the show expressing about the struggle between good and evil?

Medrano: That’s a very intricate question, and that’s what captivates me. The show is intended to symbolize and revolve around the gray area between two extremes. It delves into redemption and second chances, but in reality, it also examines what those concepts truly entail. People who endure hardships and trauma and evolve into malevolent or unpleasant individuals, sometimes all it takes is love, support, and faith in them to effect a transformation. We have witnessed this throughout history.

Everyone has their own connection with forgiveness and redemption and with individuals who have wronged them. I am uncertain whether it should ever have a definitive answer, as I am unsure if there is a universal one.

Bringing it back to musical theater, that’s essentially the premise of “Wicked,” attempting to comprehend why the wicked witch took the path she did.

Medrano: “Wicked” is a magnificent narrative. Exploring stories about what leads someone down a dark path is very enlightening to me because it is usually a momentous reason. It can be justified at times, and sometimes it cannot. However, at least it is comprehensible. An influential work for me is “Bojack Horseman,” another show that intricately depicts the complexity of the main character’s awfulness. Nevertheless, you empathize with every aspect of what brought him to that point.

Do you believe in hell?

Brightman: I would describe myself as a spiritually-inclined agnostic. I assume there might be something beyond, but I am unsure whether I would define it. At present, and I am open to change, I would lean towards no.

Medrano: It’s complicated. I have no clue about the mysteries of the universe. Occasionally, I wish it existed. Who knows what the criteria are.

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