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I saw The Last Starfighter musical. No, really. As much as I enjoy… - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
October 22nd, 2004
11:34 am

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I saw The Last Starfighter musical. No, really.

As much as I enjoy theatre, I'm unsure what to call a "Broadway" show, versus "Off Broadway", versus "Off Off Broadway". I was once in a community theatre group that called themselves "The Way Off Broadway Players". They were in New Hampshire. Anyway, this show was within sight of broadway, half a block East of the big old road on W 46th Street. But, of course, that doesn't mean that all addresses in that neighborhood are big venues.

In fact, the first two floors of that address are offices for the Episcopal Church next door. And there's no outward signs that the third floor of that building held a theatre. So I was a little anxious as I was walking up and down the block, trying to find a box office, getting increasinly worried that I had been taken when I purchased my ticket over the internet from 3000 miles away. But no, it turns out it is a legitimate theatre - around 75 seats, making it a little cozier than the theatre I patronize in Redmond.


Let's consider the musical, though. Or, better, the notion of creating this musical. If you're not familiar with it, "The Last Starfighter" was a film that was in movie theatres back in 1984. While I can't speak for the filmmakers, I can only imagine that they were trying to capture some of the attention that "Tron" received. Tron, of course, did an awful lot of special effects on these new-fangled "computers" that everybody was talking about. "The Last Starfighter" used a Cray X-MP supercomputer to render the space battle scenes. I can imagine that the idea men behind the film were sitting around a table and asking themselves what they could do to make a computer animated movie (recall, this was years and years before a full movie would be made with computer graphics.

Idea Man: Let's have a lot of explosions! Engineer: Um, explosions are very hard. You've got millions of particles moving around, lots of simulation to be done, the compositing of the transparent effects is time consuming... Idea Man: Ok, let's have a lot of people! Engineer: How many explosions were you thinking of?


So they made a movie with computer graphics doing the sterile scenes of outer space that the audience could accept looking artificial and alien. And they tacked on a story (ripping off "Ender's Game"?) in which a teenager gets recruited to fight aliens because of his prowess at a coin-op videogame, and ended up with an acceptable, but not great, movie. A few things to really understand:

a) without the computer graphics, the movie would never have been made. b) if you weren't a teenaged boy at this time, having put up with countless comments by your folks that playing videogames was a waste of time, you probably didn't see, or care about, this movie.


Twenty years later, the computer graphic videogame apologetic is back as a musical. Needless to say, there are no computer graphics. Also, consider just how many thirtyish nerdly guys are apt to take in a small musical in New York City. Seems like these obstacles are pretty significant to begin with. How the show got out of the planning stages baffles me.


As to the show itself: The performances were good all around (well, the kid playing the little brother was a little tentative on some of his lines, but we'll forgive that). The songs were delivered with energy and enthusiasm, even when singing about the Ko-Dan Armada or the evil Zandozan assasin.

Particularly well cast, I have to say, was Joseph Kolinski in the role of Centauri. If you remember the movie (and at this point, I've got to imagine that you do), you'll recall that Robert Preston WAS Centauri. A huge amount of Preston's personality gave life to that role. And, given that this show is cashing in on nostalgia, it's important to maintain as much continuity as you can with the original. The actor that performed Centauri reminded me of an admixture of Robert Preston, Christopher Walken, and Dennis Hopper. An interesting mix, but when you really wanted a Robert Preston delivery of a line, Kolinski nailed it.

The qualms I have about the musical mostly tie into this lack of continuity. First, and perhaps least important, was the weapon that they use to take out the mothership. I think they called it "Weapon Z". Totally made up for this show. In the movie, the secret, untested, last-ditch weapon, was the "Death Blossom". Which, for some reason, the musical brought out and got rid of early in the show. Perhaps "Death Blossom" seemed anticlimactic these days.

Another curious change was the fact that the navigator during the dramatic battle sequence was Centauri. He's a fine character, played by a fine actor, but by putting Centauri into the GunStar, the role of Grig became superfluous. Related to this is the musical's decision that Grig and Centauri are brothers. I'll watch the movie again to make sure, but I'm pretty sure they weren't the same species. Perhaps making them brothers gave Grig some vague connection to the plot.

Perhaps at this point, you're wondering how Centauri could be the navigator in the end of the show when he dies towards the end of Act I in the movie. I won't spoil it entirely, but SOMEBODY doesn't die in the musical. I'll let you guess.

One concession to the musical format is that the characters have to break into song and dance every now and then. I'm no lyric critic, so I won't judge the musical on how well the writer handled tricky rhymes like "Starfighter Legion" or "Manzar Spy". However, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the suspenseful hide and seek chase sequence in the asteroid launching into "Caves of the Heart". Seemed a little strained to force the interior of an asteroid to be a metaphor for the human condition.

A minor quibble about the videogame performance: it didn't seem clear to me that the actor or the director had actually played videogames. There were important dramatic points where the character should have been leaning on the joysticks, and carefully timing a button press. The videogame in the musical seemed to involve shifting a lever once every few seconds, and when the verse of the song was done, pawing at some buttons on the console. Close, but not convincing.

One last quibble - remember the cool "Star Car" that Centauri drove? Granted, a shoestring musical can't have fancy vehicles - even if they had a huge budget, I don't think there would have been room for such a thing onstage. Or backstage. So they had to improvise. And, indeed, when they needed a space fighter craft, they stuck some additional stuff onto a picnic table, and it worked. Not so well, though, was when the Star Car was made out of the same picnic table with no additional fittings. If a guy was sitting on the end of the picnic table, it was a car. Otherwise, it was a picnic table. Maybe a steering wheel. Or a license plate reading "RYLOS". Something.


So. Bottom line: if you're in NYC, and you've got 2 hours and $18 to blow on a throwback to your youthful videogame past, it's OK. Fun, but not a must-see.

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