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updated: 6/20/2012 6:33 AM

Ordinary, extraordinary come together in Marriott's 'Hero'

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  • Erich Bergen stars as a young artist struggling to find himself and Heidi Kettenring plays his former girlfriend in Marriott Theatre's "Hero."

      Erich Bergen stars as a young artist struggling to find himself and Heidi Kettenring plays his former girlfriend in Marriott Theatre's "Hero."

  • Marriott Theatre's world premiere production of "Hero" represents a collaboration between writer Aaron Thielen and composer/lyricist Michael Mahler.

      Marriott Theatre's world premiere production of "Hero" represents a collaboration between writer Aaron Thielen and composer/lyricist Michael Mahler.

 
By Brian Singer
bsinger@dailyherald.com

Peter Parker, the man behind the Spider-man mask, famously says: "With great power comes great responsibility." But what about the potential to be great? What does that come with?

That's one of the many questions raised in the original musical "Hero," making its world premiere today at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

"Hero" follows the story of a 28-year-old guy aptly named Hero, still stuck living at home and helping his dad run a comic book shop in Milwaukee. Hero, a young artist, creates his own super hero comic with characters based on his own life but is struggling to get a career going because of a personal tragedy that's been holding him back.

"He's spiraled down to the darkest place in the mind," says Erich Bergen, who's playing Hero. "The story centers around his rebirth: getting out of that dark place and getting back into the light."

Opposite of Bergen is Hero's ex-girlfriend/lifelong friend Jane played by Heidi Kettenring. She has resurfaced in his life after a bad marriage drove her back to Milwaukee. Kettenring says Jane's relationship with Hero ended through a lot of misunderstanding, and her role now is to help him realize his potential.

"It's all focused around them reigniting a relationship that she had the hindsight to try to fix and to find out exactly what happened that made it end," she says.

According to Aaron Thielen, the show's writer and Marriott's co-artistic director, the main ideas of "Hero" center around the similarities between a super hero and your average Joe, and how they both can have trouble defining themselves. "In the show, Hero's dad explains that everyone has a super power and a gift unique to them, they just have to find it and use it," Thielen says.

He says the idea for the musical came a few years ago and was inspired from his own life. "I wanted to write a contemporary show based in Milwaukee where I'm from," Thielen explains. "There was this old antique store I knew of that included a yard and a house, and I thought that'd be a great setting for a whole show to take place."

Thielen included his love for comic books in the story, and about two years ago a reading of the show took place for an audience of about 600 people.

Since then, "Hero" has gone through many rewrites -- all from the combined efforts of the cast, Thielen and Michael Mahler, the lyricist, composer and conductor.

"It was a great collaboration -- trying things out, tossing and keeping songs," Mahler notes. "Of all the rewrites and scrapped routines, there could be a completely separate show!"

The score was designed to reflect the unique atmosphere that comic books offer a reader. "These people surround themselves with heroes that have a larger-than-life quality to them with great imaginations," Mahler says.

Bergen adds that "Hero" is not trying to sell itself as something more serious than it is. "It's not pretentious or elitist in any way ... both the score and the script are instantly accessible and draw a huge emotional response."

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