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Wagner + Wheeler on “Too Much Coffee Man Opera”

by  in Comic News Comment
Wagner + Wheeler on “Too Much Coffee Man Opera”

“Too Much Coffee Man Opera: The Refill” runs through April 20 in Portland, OR

The first "Too Much Coffee Man Opera" premiered last year to sold out runs in Portland, followed up by another run of sold out shows during Comic-Con International San Diego, 2007. Based on Shannon Wheeler’s satirical superhero with a serious caffeine addiction, "Too Much Coffee Man Opera: The Refill," the sequel, opened last Friday night at Brunish Hall in the Portland Center of Performing Arts in Oregon. The show runs through April 20.

"Refill" picks up two years later after the first. We find The Barista has fulfilled her superhero dreams, and she’s married a Martian. Unfortunately, she’s bored. The Barista hopes caffeine will cure her ennui and calls Too Much Coffee Man for help. Antics ensue as Espresso Guy tries to win her back by pretending to be Too Much Coffee Man.

Confusing? Bizarre? Insane? Don’t fret. If you’ve not seen the first opera, you’ll be just fine. In fact, the first opera will be staged before each showing of the sequel.

Recently, fan favorite comic creator Matt Wagner (“Grendel,” “Trinity”) sat down with Too Much Coffee Man creator Shannon Wheeler to discuss this compelling but decidedly odd pairing of mediums. Both denizens of Portland and representing opposite ends of the comics spectrum, it seemed fitting to pair these two in a discussion about this comic book/opera mash-up.

MATT WAGNER: So this is a comic strip opera? What’s that all about? Describe what can only be described as an utterly unique melding of those two mediums.

Stacey Murdoch as Too Much Coffee Man

SHANNON WHEELER: It’s an opera based on my comic strip. It’s a better fit than I could have ever guessed. My comic has heavy amounts of internal dialog – the sort of thing that doesn’t work well in a cartoon. In opera, everyone sings their internal thoughts. It’s a perfect medium for comics. I’m amazed that there aren’t more comic book operas.

MW: Whatever gave you this crazy idea to mix up the two in the first place; I mean, I can hardly think of two more disparate art forms?

SW: The composer, Daniel Steven Crafts, approached me with the idea. I opposed it until one night I had a dream with Too Much Coffee Man singing.

MW: Who’s your target audience here; theater folk or comic aficionados? Both?

SW: Target audience? Ha. I just wanted to do it. You know, it’s funny. It wasn’t until the opening night that I realized it was a family show. Most of my writing process is internal. I barely think of the audience. But luckily, the opera found its audience. Last year, when we premiered the original production all the shows sold out. I consider myself lucky that it found an audience!

MW: So, you’re the librettist on this production, yeah? Talk about your composer and your lyricist — how did you meet and become involved with them?

Stacey Murdoch as Too Much Coffee Man

SW: Yep. I’m a cunning librettist. My rhyming skills aren’t the best so I had friends help me out. Damian Willcox and Carolyn Main both have innate talent with the ability to write to meter and keep the rhyme. The composer is an old friend of my family. He’s been writing operas for years. I think this is his thirteenth opera.

For all those not up on opera terms, a librettist is the writer of a libretto and the libretto is what the text is called which is used in opera.

MW: How do you cast such a crazy endeavor? Was part of your the requirements for your lead, "Must be able to sing with over-sized coffee cup on head?"

SW: We lucked out with casting. Stacey Murdoch, who plays Too Much Coffee Man, has a perfect sense of the character. He said he just read the comics and tried to imitate the gesture and emotion. I think he’s the soul incarnate.

The cast of "Too Much Offee Man Opera: The Refill"

MW: And “Refill” is your second staging of a Too Much Coffee Man opera, right? You must be a glutton for punishment.

SW: I don’t know about glutton, but definitely a masochist.

No, it’s really been great to do this. Those that didn’t see the first run, will get to see the original opera, and those that did see the original will get to see the sequel. I’m really interested in hearing people’s reaction who saw the first one by itself as opposed to those that will be coming in fresh and seeing the original and the sequel back to back.

And then… I’ll have to start working on the third one!

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.

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