February 15, 2011

Darren Criss' crew comes to town in sci-fi musical

First they parodied Harry Potter, and now they’re going to space. Starkid Productions has come to Chicago to perform Starship, their fourth sidesplitting musical, at Hoover-Leppen Theatre. Written and directed by Matt Lang with the help of co-writers Nick Lang, Brian Holden, and Joe Walker, Starship lives up to Starkid fans’ expectations.

Formed at the University of Michigan, Starkid Productions has exploded in popularity around the country. The troupe first hit it big with A Very Potter Musical, which has upwards of 50 million views on YouTube. Starkid’s co-founder and main composer, Darren Criss, is now even a regular on Glee. It’s no surprise then that Starship garnered a fantastically excited audience for its premier Chicago performance. Judged as the best place to expand its form of internet theater, Chicago now accommodates Starkid Productions.

Starship opens with a misunderstood bug named Bug (Joey Richter) who lives on an uncharted planet in the distant future. He admires the heroic and adventurous lives of the earthly Star Rangers for their philanthropic duties (preserving mankind by colonizing other planets), and aspires to become one in the future. However, his aspirations take a backseat when he is sentenced by the Overqueen (Jim Povolo) to take a menial job planting eggs. But when a Starship lands on his planet, Bug’s life begins to take action.

He meets February (Denise Donovan) who has been taken hostage by the other bugs of his colony, and it’s love at first sight (at least for Bug). Bug then vows to become a Star Ranger to save her, struggling through obstacles of love and devotion as he wavers between his true love February, his obligations to his colony, and the love of a more suitable match, Bugette (Lauren Lopez).

The plot then takes an Avatar-esque twist as Bug is allowed to realize his dream when he is transformed into a human with the aid of the evil scorpion Pincer (Dylan Saunders). Bug then joins the other Star Rangers in the pursuit of saving his beloved February. But trouble always seems to find them along their mission and they need to integrate the efforts of both the Star Rangers and the colony of bugs to make their mission a success.

Instead of using makeup and costumes to transform into bugs, Starkid used puppets. Although the use of puppets did seem a bit juvenile at first, the cast exhibited sheer creativity with each one—every character was brought to life through the multi-talented (and multi-cast) actors. Lauren Lopez, for example, received much praise for her roles as Taz, the toughest Star Ranger, and Bugette, Bug’s biggest fan.

The songs in Starship are just as innovative; Darren Criss and the performing ensemble do not disappoint with this original score. One particular song that really stood out was “Kick it up a Notch,” when Pincer talks Bug into becoming a human. This song exhibited the singing talent of the minor characters, and the dynamic range in tones shifted the musical’s proficiency to a higher degree. Starship also had an enjoyable dialogue-to-song ratio—an important aspect of musical theater. Consequently, there were hardly any scenes lacking vitality. And in true Starkid tradition, the songs contributed to the many laughs that occurred throughout the audience.

So, Starship proves to be a successful follow-up to A Very Potter Musical. Bug’s experience surely relayed the message of what it really means to be human. It all took the persistence of determination that usually dies in us. The audience is shown the glory in the hardships we easily take for granted.