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'Bronies': When men love 'My Little Pony' too much

'Bronies': When men love 'My Little Pony' too much
Four cartoon ponies in sparkly evening gowns create unexpected friendships in "Bronies: The Musical" at the Third Street Theatre. (MIchael Lamont)

Nothing in "Bronies: The Musical," at the Third Street Theater, is as hard to credit as the existence of bronies: adult, primarily male fans of "My Little Pony."

If bronies are real — and according to the Internet, they are — then our very standards of plausibility must be recalibrated, or jettisoned altogether. The resulting cognitive clarity is ideal for enjoying this unabashedly campy and sweet musical, which first made a splash at the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival and has been remounted under the deft direction of Richard Israel.

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"Bronies" evokes "Hairspray" in its message of acceptance, but writers and lyricists Heidi Powers and Tom Moore keep the stakes relatively low: All the characters want is the freedom to express their love for what's called here "The Pony Show" and its pastel tie-in collectibles.

The host of the evening, Keith (Mark Gelsomini), a proud brony, introduces the players in the drama, three high-schoolers in a town called Martindale. There's the jock, basketball star Austin (Taylor Helmboldt), who's secretly uncomfortable with his teammates' bullying. Then there are the victims: a nerd named Tyler (Richy Storrs), whose mother (the hilarious Gabby Sanalitro) doesn't respect his boundaries, and Jacob (Josey Montana McCoy), the school custodian who dreams of being an artist.

The boys' fates change one night when they all separately happen to see an episode of "The Pony Show." On TV, the ponies are played by Russ Walko's adorable puppets. But when they come out to sing composer Joe Greene's dazzling harmonies and perform John Todd's kicky choreography, they're four lovely, pony-like women with sparkly evening gowns and flowing topknots (Brielle Batino, Stephanie Hayslip, Shelley Regner and Charlotte Mary Wen, in costumes by Michael Mullen). They act as spirit guides, grinning encouragingly as their human protégés achieve self-knowledge.

The boys explore the online brony communities, where Jacob begins creating fan art and Tyler sparks up a friendship with Paige (Molly Gilman) in a charming "Computer Duet."

They attend a fan meet-up at the Apple, a comic-book store run by Hank (composer Greene), where Austin's arrival provokes tension. ("This is kind of heavy for a fan meet-up," Tyler remarks. Keith rejoins, "This must be your first fan meet-up.") Of all of them, Austin has the hardest time reconciling his jock identity with the ponies' message.

The inevitable, candy-sweet resolution is made especially toothsome by salty moments, as when Tyler's mom encourages him to explore online pornography in "Urges," and Austin's cheerleader girlfriend (Anna Grace Barlow) confesses to her own offbeat proclivities in "Weird."

Music director and keyboardist Jennifer Lin and her band perform onstage, adding a wonderful live energy, if occasionally drowning out the voices. Joel Daavid's compact, flexible set is just right. If it doesn't turn you into a brony, "Bronies" will make you a fan of this winsome production.

"Bronies: The Musical," Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 2. $25-$30. (888) 718-4253 or www.showclix.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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