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How A Musical About Star Wars both celebrates and critiques the iconic saga
Anyone who buys a ticket for A Musical About Star Wars is presumably familiar with George Lucas' space opera franchise. But with its Ewok and Wookiee growls, Wilhelm scream cues and other trivia and minutiae, this show isn't so much about Star Wars as it is about its fans.
At St Luke's Theatre Off-Broadway, two real-life fanboys, Taylor Crousore and Scott Foster, are trying out a stage celebration of Star Wars they hope to perform at Comic Con. While the Force is strong with them, it's faint in their incredulous costar, Emily McNamara, also playing a version of herself. So the guys set out to get Emily and any skeptics in the audience as excited about Star Wars and its cultural impact as they are through comedic character impressions, a Hamilton-style rap recap of the original trilogy, fourth wall-smashing jokes and other galactic gags.
A Musical About Star Wars is the brainchild of Tom D'Angora, the producer behind the long-running Off-Broadway hit NEWSical the Musical, an always-changing satirical take on current headlines. D'Angora co-wrote the book with Crousore and Foster, who are both NEWSical alums. In fact, the idea for A Musical About Star Wars came from a well-received NEWSical sketch Foster penned about Star Wars fandom -- that's when D'Angora realized the subject was worthy of its own show. Billy Recce, another Star Wars aficionado who contributed material to NEWSical, wrote the songs.
D'Angora call himself a "Gen X-winger" since he became hooked on the series after seeing Return of the Jedi in the theatre in 1983. As the song "Everyone Has a Backstory" explains, the gateway to Star Wars fandom varies. Some grew up with the original trilogy in the '70s and '80s. Others were introduced to the universe via the prequels in the '90s and '00s. The youngest devotees came on board with the sequel trilogy, which is set to wrap up the entire nine-movie series this December. Over multiple decades and generations, Star Wars has made billions of dollars while inspiring children to resist darkness and cosplay as the characters they idolize.
Of course, save for Leia played by the late, great Carrie Fisher, there were no kick-ass female characters to emulate in the first two trilogies, an issue that rankled D'Angora, who's also a gay political activist. He cites Leia's progression from Princess to General as proof the story has grown. "It's pretty amazing if you watch the later movies that Leia is the only one from the original cast who stuck around to fight the good fight," he says. Yet he acknowledges that, in the first six films, Star Wars had a problematic history with women, who were mostly treated as disposable elements in a male-centric saga. That criticism is voiced in A Musical About Star Wars through Emily, who also expresses admiration for Leia.
Just like with the movies, every fan will connect to the show differently. We are a diverse bunch in terms of age and ethnicity. As someone who fits the category of a Millennial Falcon, I was introduced to Star Wars by my late father, who took me to The Phantom Menace. A Vietnamese man who grew up Buddhist, he saw how the mystical aura known as the Force and Jedi practices were inspired by tenants of his religion. He recognized his culture in Star Wars, even if the narrative was dominated by white players. It wasn't until Rose Tico (played by Kelly Marie Tran) was introduced in the eighth movie that someone who looked like me became part of the adventure. At the performance I attended, I was the sole audience member who applauded when a lyric called out the toxic fanboy harassment of Tran that prompted her to flee social media.
That's why, as much as A Musical About Star Wars is a tribute to the sci-fi epic, it doesn't gloss over its flaws, like its lack of LGBTQ representation. The show acknowledges that the franchise still has room to evolve… as does the musical itself. D'Angora invites audiences to share their thoughts on the production via the contact form on his website as they continue to make changes during previews until the official opening on May 4, also known as Star Wars Day because, as fan says, "May the Fourth Be With You." According to D'Angora, "The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The only negative feedback we got so far was that, 'This show is too politically correct' and the person stormed out."
The references come at light speed in this 90-minute romp. "There're a thousand little things in there," D'Angora says, but he adds that audiences don't need to catch all the Easter eggs to have an entertaining and enlightening time in this familiar galaxy far, far away.
To read about a student's experience at A Musical About Star Wars, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
Caroline Cao is a writer, comic writer, playwright and screenwriter. When she's not working on a script or fanfiction, she's experimenting with pasta. Follow her at @Maximinalist. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Tom D'Angora and the cast of A Musical About Star Wars. Photo courtesy of Tom D'Angora.