The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
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Volume #1, Issue #5
"Stand By For Mars!"
May 2006
Musical Theatre Criticism
The Last Starfighter: The Musical, produced by Kritzerland
Listen to selections or purchase for $17.98 from [www.kritzerland]
Review by Ryan Brennan

As noted in Fred Landau's liner notes, people have frequently asked, "Why The Last Starfighter?" A variation, for those unsurprised by much of what transpires in show business, is "Who'd of thunk they'd do a musical of The Last Starfighter." After all, it's not the best known or most successful movie ever made and many people wouldn't even know the title. Yet, even the film's director, Nick Castle, felt there was something akin to the musical in his movie. And if there can be musicals based on films like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Footloose, Evil Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars and Urban Cowboy, why not The Last Starfighter?

Actually, the movie is a nostalgic favorite for many who saw it on first release, especially among pre-teens, and there is a small but appreciative cult following for the film. So, in late 2004, the Storm Theatre premiered The Last Starfighter, The Musical to mostly positive, even fond, reviews. The story, for those unfamiliar with either the movie or the musical, concerns college-bound Alex Rogan, a young man who acts as handyman at the Starlite Starbrite trailer park managed by his mother. Feeling trapped by the limits of his situation, Alex yearns to escape and find his destiny. That destiny arrives in the unlikely guise of a video arcade game, Starfighter.

It is after Alex breaks the game record that he receives a visit from the creator of the game, Centuari. Although Alex is unaware of the fact, the game was meant to find talented players who could be recruited by the Star League as Starfighters in the battle against Zur (Xur in the movie) and the Ko-dan Armada. Alex balks at first, but when he learns that either Zandozans, interstellar hit beasts, will pursue him and his family until they kill him, or that Zur will eventually reach Earth and conquer it, the talented game player agrees to help. Naturally, all turns out well.

Fred Landau takes a clever approach by restructuring the story so it's told as a flashback, allowing the cast to move back and forth between the present and the near past, as they present their tale to those who have come to hear it (the audience). Landau makes some changes in the details of the story, strengthening some of the motivation as in Alex's belief that accompanying Centauri might get him the money he needs for college. Landau also gives more characters - like Otis, Mrs. Rogan, Maggie, and kid brother Louis - their moments in the spotlight. The biggest change is relegating Grig, played so wonderfully by Dan O'Herlihy in the movie, to a background role. His function in the final battle is taken over by Centauri, which does add a bit of extra tension in that he is not a professional Gunstar pilot like Grig. Another interesting alteration is giving the Zandozan assassin the ability to take over human bodies.

Kritzerland

Skip Kennon, composer and lyricist, has done a good job maintaining the story line while advancing both the plot and character development. It begins with a Star Trek-ish opening, the music evocative of twinkling stars, as the residents of the trailer park begin to set the record straight on what happened in their small community ("Starlite Starbrite"). Alex, besieged by handyman problems, laments his situation and his desire to escape. ("Somebody, Somewhere, Something"). As Alex strives to break the Starfighter record the park residents cheer him on to victory "Little Did We Know -- The Game") as the song combines a rural, countrified sound with the more sophisticated zips and zaps of the video game. Otis gets an old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley tune to bolster Alex's confidence ("Things Change").

One of the best songs belongs to Zur. Bernardo de Paula's delivery is quiet and ominous, his low key menace far more striking and frightening than the shrill, one-dimensional portrait in the film. Zur's smug confidence periodically erupts in anger, only hinting at the deep frustration and rage he feels. As he recounts the past that has led to the estrangement between he and his father General Kril. That Zur doesn't seem to directly his father only increases the sense of dysfunction ("Father To Son").

Another highlight is the song given to Alex's little brother Louis. The attack of the Zandozan is given a comic telling as Louis complains that his wet dream featuring a Playboy centerfold was interrupted. Individual park residents chime in to describe the sensations of having a foul smelling alien assassin inhabit their bodies ("Zandozan!").


© Kritzerland
It must also be noted that Joseph Kolinski does not disappoint as Centauri. Filling the shoes of Robert Preston is no small order and Kolinski manages to remind us of the great music man while still making this music his own ("Out of This World,", "To Make a Hero", "Caves of the Heart -- The Battle").

Can any of this compare to great musical works of Lerner and Loewe, Lane and Harburg, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Andrew Lloyd Webber, to name only a few? Of course not. And while this recording no doubt loses something between the stage and the CD, it is still an entertaining listen, pointing to the creativity and talents of all involved. I think it would be extremely interesting to see this transferred back to film, at least as a TV movie, where musicals seem to have made something of a comeback.

Thanks must go out to Bruce Kimmel and Kritzerland for taking a chance on an unusual recording and preserving it for the future.

Read a review of The Last Starfighter, the movie, by Ryan Brennan.

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