I'm not one for musicals but its THE LAST STARFIGHTER, THE MUSICAL and I was in NYC anyway for dha's birthday. I'd noticed it mentioned on Slashdot and how could you pass up a thing like that? So I dragged David along.
Like I said, I'm really not much for musicals. But I do love the movie. I remember seeing it over and over again as a kid. The whole "the video game is real" theme is what I loved, being about 12 at the time. David, he is into musicals but he's never seen the movie. So we made a good pair of judges going in.
Storm Theatre is located on the 3rd floor of a church just off Broadway. We walked right past it. Tiny little space, maybe a dozen rows of seats. Not cramped but the accousitics could have been better. Unmiked, but I prefer that in a small space (the kid that played Louis had a hard time projecting though). I was later told that miking would have doubled the cost of the performance. Given that it was a sparse but professional setup.
So how was it? If you strip away the nostalgia... it was ok. Honestly, they were too straight-faced out it. Once you remove the special effects and space battles what do you have left? A thin story about a small town kid with big dreams who's whisked off into another world to do good. And a little romance on the side. Sound familiar? It is. And when you try to write a musical around that... well you can imagine. The songs seemed to come a little too often, a little forced, a little too long (this might just be my aversion to musicals) and a little too earnest.
So what was good? What was good was the parts where they decided to play with the material. Where they realized that the premise of making The Last Starfighter into a musical was positively rediculous, nobody was there for serious theatre, and the show should poke fun at itself a bit. In order to adapt it for a low budget play they obviously had to remove all space battles and special effects. So how did they recreate the starfighter? A picnic table with a milk crate and a few props stuck to it. The picnic table was, at various points, Centauri's car, the Starfighter and a picnic table. It was a nice running gag. Otis' porch at the trailer park doubled for the bridge of the Kodan mothership. The sets were sparse, simple and almost cartoony. David's comment was something like, "This looks like it was put on by 12 year olds! Not that that's bad..."
In rewriting the story for the stage the point of view is altered a little, to good effect. Its told by Otis, owner of the general store, after the fact. This has the nice effect of bringing in the denzins of the trailer park as significant characters so now there's more material to work with. More going on on the stage than just Alex, Maggie and Centauri. One of the best scenes is when Louis (Alex's little brother with the Playboys) tells the story of the Zandozan hit-man from his point of view with the Zandozan stiffly hopping around the stage. All of the actors from the trailer park play the aliens when Alex goes into space creating a sort of Wizard of Oz feel. Their costumes are deliberately hokey. Brightly colored tenticles and silly hats. Its more of this sort of thing that I wanted to see. Playful adaptation. And there was enough to make it worth $20.
There was one significant change to the story that I didn't agree with, but I understand the reasons. Grig (pilot of the Starfighter in the movie) is rewritten as Centauri's brother. Instead of being the gung-ho iguana he spends most of his time lambasting Centauri for his greedy ways. It comes off preachy and flat. Grig is wounded in the attack on Rilos and Centauri pilots the Starfighter. The dynamic of Grig's earnest optimisim and Alex's confused pessimism, which is one of the best relationships in the film, is lost. In the Starfighter Centauri continues to deliver most of Grig's lines and they would have worked better had a more sarcastic spin been placed on them. But with BOTH Alex and Centauri being pessimists it just doesn't work. I found out later that the decision was made to expand Centauri's character at the expense of Grig because it would be too difficult to find an experienced actor to take a role that only lasts through the first act. A lamentable reality of show business I guess.
We got lucky. It turns out we were sitting next to a friend of the writer and she introduced us after the show. We told him pretty much what I've just said and he agreed, that's the direction he'd like to take the show. What we didn't now is this: They did it in three weeks working just four hours a day. And they went through three Alex's in that period. With that knowledge they did a fantastic job.
The show closes tomorrow (Saturday, Oct 30th is the last show). It seems to have done well and if they have their way there will be a revised production with a bigger budget and more playfulness in the script sometime in the future. And, if they have their way, the picnic table will lift off the stage and fly.