Review: Starship the Musical (Team Starkid)


Live onstage now—with internet afterlife to follow


Team Starkid's new musical, Starship, opens on February 11, 2011 in Chicago.

Credit: Chris Dzombak/Starkid

StarKid Productions presents
Music and Lyrics by Darren Criss
Book by
Matt and Nick Lang, Brian Holden, and Joseph Walker
Directed by
Matt Lang
Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted (map)
thru Feb 23  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

For an Internet sensation that began on YouTube, the young folks of Team Starkid sure can produce a ton of theater in one sitting–like their 2009 success A Very Potter Musical, a fan-generated parody that went viral (in the best sense). Created by the likes of Darren Criss (now a regular on “Glee”) and puppet designer Russ Walko (of “The Simpsons” fame), their new 210-minute creation is the epic spoof Starship, a show you can read about here but can’t see because the short run is sold out (though their website says that there may be tickets available at the door).

Bug (Joey Richter) discovers February (Denise Donovan) trapped in the Bug World Hatchery, from "Starship the Musical" now playing in Chicago.  Photo credit: Chris DzombakDon’t worry: It’s far from the best show you (probably) never get to see. It’s not just its humongous, three-and-a-half-hour length, including ten endings and too many character crises to resolve for anyone to care about the results. Loosely based on the grisly 1996 film “Starship Troopers” (itself a parody of World War II propaganda newsreels), this overlong concoction owes 90% of its plot to other sources too—“Avatar,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Shrek,” “Avenue Q,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and, above all, “Antz” and “A Bug’s Life.” Take away all these influences and you’ve got practically no plot. What remains are a few semi-memorable songs by Criss, who knows how to spin generic pop anthems out of too few notes. Still, as a pastiche, this is no worse than Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph” and almost as much fun.

There’s also the staging by co-author Matt Lang which, despite its excesses, is charming throughout, energized by a 13-member cast who will look just as good on your laptop as at the Center on Halsted.

The voluminous and futuristic plot, here drastically reduced to a bare synopsis, focuses on a planet like the arachnid colony Klandathu in the Casper Van Dien film—but here the insects are much more varied and much less vicious. One, broadly named Bug, wants to become a Starship Ranger, like the ones that crashed on the planet 18 years before, only to be devoured by the still insatiable Pincer. Bug (the sweet-faced, strong-lunged Joey Richter) finds himself transformed into a humanoid and, Mermaid-like, is drawn to the airhead science officer February. She’s one of the new very stereotypical Starship Rangers who have reached the planet for the purpose of recolonization. But the maleficent Junior has other plans for enslaving the bugs and exploiting them as mutant slaves.

Taz (Lauren Lopez) and Up (Joe Walker) take off into battle in StarKid’s new comedy musical Starship, now playing in Chicago's Center on Halsted.  Photo credit: Chris Dzombak.

These colorful caricatures mate with plodding precision: The human-hating robot Mega-Girl overcomes her distaste for weak earthlings by going for the rhapsodic redneck Tootsie Noodles. The nerdy Specs falls for the burly Krayonder, gung-ho Commander Up falls for demure Taz, and Bug wins valley girl February.

Because the show borrows so widely from so many sources, it barely works as a subversion of the mindless action sequences of “Starship Troopers,” with its semi-fascist message that soldiers are more important than citizens. But the true believers in the opening night audience (mostly teen girls and tweener fans) were delighted with every thudding cliché. Sometimes it really helps not to know a show’s influences – another way that ignorance is bliss.

Rating: ★★★

Team Starkid's new musical, Starship, opens on February 11, 2011 in Chicago.

Credit: Chris Dzombak/Starkid

Bug (Joey Richter) discovers February (Denise Donovan) trapped in the Bug World Hatchery.  "Starship the Musical" is now playing at Chicago's Center on Halsted theatre. Photo by Chris Dzombak.

Bug (Joey Richter) discovers February (Denise Donovan) trapped in Bug World Hatchery.


All photos by Chris Dzombak


22 Responses

  1. Specs doesn’t fall for Up, she falls for Krayonder. Maybe you’re thinking that Commander Up falls for Taz?

  2. Yes, you’re correct and I’ll ask my editor to fix the misattributed love. My only excuse is that after the third hour my brain may have frozen and just mated them on my own…

  3. I really think you have to be a Starkid fan to enjoy this play.

    I thought it was epic.

    • Thank you! Ok, I’ll admit I ‘m a teenage girl, but I did get most of the references, and still thought it was funny. What Starship borrows from other works is part of what makes it so funny. The cliches are purposeful and satyrical, they were in there for a reason.
      The musical is not supposed to be a revolutionary epic- the Starkids are just trying to have fun.

      Besides, you can’t admit the puppets weren’t amazing- did you get a look at Pincer? And many of the actors are underappreciated talents. Honestly, they don’t deserve this kind of criticism. Don’t treat the play like it’s trying to be one of Shakespear’s works. Lighten up and enjoy the goofiness and Pokemon references.

  4. I thought the show was fun and entertaining, and despite warnings of the length- the sheer effort and coordination that the show required made it exhilarating to watch. The puppets and puppetry were beautiful, Pincer was definitely more entertaining than 3 stars.

    The characters also had (albiet cliché) relationships, yet they were still satyric portrayals of the same clichés we see in all of the many influences the authors choose to draw upon. Yet their use of hyperbole, points out the absurdities of these clichés and the character’s abilities to overcome them: Taz and Up on one hand and Mega Girl and Tootsie on the other- though Shrek went there before too, I guess. But what great story isn’t built on the foundations of another?

    And for the ‘no plot’ point: it’s the intricate weaving of all of the influences of the science fiction/fantasy genre (somewhere between the Little Mermaid and A Bugs’ life and the epic battles of Aliens and Starship trooper) where this intersection creates the story. Not to mention the lewd humor and solid physical gags (for both of which I am a sucker).

    I’m not saying the show was perfect- the songs needed to be more integrated into the plot and despite the overwhelming effort- I look forward to seeing this production done with more money and more time: there is a universe out there to conquer and to be truly five stars it, requires both.

    Great work Starkids, I look forward to more.

  5. My point, in fact, was that there was too much plot, but that little of that excess was origin if you subtract all the sources.

  6. I’m not sure what show you saw, but Taz is anything but demure.

  7. lol suck my dick Starship was incredible

  8. I was about to say what Anonymous said up there. Starship was a great show in my humble opinion. If Starkid ever decides to release the script and music for the public, you can bet money that I will kill to play the part of Taz. Lauren Lopez stole the show, just continuing to be my idol. So I’m never going to read another Starkid review by you guys again. You guys don’t do reviews, you just do pessimistic lies. 😐

  9. Are you insane?! You must NOT have seen ANY other of their plays. The fact that ANYONE could hate it boggles my mind!

  10. What? I thought Starship was hilarious!

  11. Guys, calm down, it’s a review, not the end of the world. I’m a huge Starkid fan, and I COMPLETELY agree with them! Yes, there was plenty of talent, but the show still has some kinks it needs to work out. And they aren’t hating on Starkid! If you look at some other reviews, you’ll see that they gave “A Little Night Music” and “The King and I”, shows considered by many to be absolutely amazing and beautfiul, the same score as “Starship”, a 3. a 3 out of 4 is an excellent review! Team Starkid can only go up from here!

  12. Taz? Demure? Really?

  13. Just one thing, all the references and cliches are part of Starkid’s charm. I’m actually sure that a bunch of the audience members who delighted in the show did know what influences other shows had on Starship, and enjoyed the cliches for that.

  14. Yikes! Who knew a three star review would cause such hatred. Go back to 4Chan, children.

  15. Yes, the dedicated StarKid fans will be on you like a pack of Dementors for this, but that’s what you get for not watching the show properly and then proceeding to talk about it like you’re the second coming of Ebert. Seriously, where did you get the idea that Taz is “demure”?
    Starship isn’t perfect, but there’s no need to act like it’s completely beneath you. And please don’t talk like the only people who were watching were “teen girls and tweener fans” — they only came flocking in after Darren’s Glee debut. StarKid has much more fans than that.

  16. Wait, what? How is Taz “demure”? Did you even watch the show?

  17. I saw all the pastiche elements, never knew anything about Starkid before, and this was instantly my favorite musical, if not one of my favorite works of entertainment of any sort.

    I thought it poured charm from every single fiber of its being, from subtle movements by some of the puppets to the overwhelmingly catchy songs, nothing about it felt lackluster. You might be able to cut out forty minutes to an hour of dialog, but I was honestly never bored. The childish feel of the jokes and acting was nothing but lovable.

    I don’t feel that it’s really any more of a pastiche then, frankly, any other show on Earth. You can break literally any work of entertainment down into a list of things we’ve seen before. It’s presentation that matters, and I could have watched this particular team read the phone book and be entertained.

  18. I won’t take issues with the majority of what you’ve said, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I personally loved it (and it’s been a looong time since I was a teenage girl!). I will, however, take issues with the 2nd last paragraph and your description of the characters.
    “Burly Krayonder”? Joe Moses is a stick!
    “Gung-ho Commander Up” – Up has been soft since his injury – literally “all heart and no balls”.
    “Demure Taz” … OK, are you sure you watched the whole thing? I don’t think it’s possible to put “Taz” and “demure” in the same sentence unless the words “is most certainly not” are between them.

  19. Everyone has their right to their opinion, but I’m wondering a few things. A) HOW THE HELL IS TAZ DEMURE???!?!!?!??!?!?! <<that was my top worry about this review. I mean…that makes me think that you didn't even really WATCH it if you typed that adjective in conjunction with her name.

    Personally, I think it's adorable. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think that maybe it's targeted toward a certain type of audience; also if you have seen other Starkid musicals and enjoy the actors as much as most hardcore fans do, it's much more enjoyable to watch Voldemort/Umbridge and Draco attempt at a buddy relationship.

    And now, looking back, ALL your adjectives are wrong…Krayonder=Joe Moses=thin as can be. Up, gung-ho? He's soft and weak the whole musical.

    …and I still can't get over the whole "demure Taz" thing. I'm sorry, but please tell me that was a mistake.

    All in all, your review was thoughtful, but I don't agree.

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