Review: The First (and Last) Musical on Mars (New Rock)


Too messy, even for schlock


Gina Sparacino and Meghan Phillpp in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.

New Rock Theater presents
The First (and Last) Musical on Mars
Written by George Zarr
Directed by Kevin Hanna
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I generally love schlock musical comedy. The emotions are elemental, the humor, raw, the plots, joyfully ridiculous. Yet, is it possible for schlock to be too schlock-y, even for schlock? Of course—and as Exhibit A, I present to you The First (and Last) Musical On Mars, onstage now at New Rock Theater. New Rock rocked Chicago twice with its utterly gnarly and awesome crowd-pleaser, Point Break Live! (our review Leah Isabel Tirado in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.★★★). But it seems that they’ve taken this fledgling comedy review too early from its nest.

Written and composed by former Sirius Satellite Radio spoken word maven George Zarr and directed by Kevin Hanna (musical direction Robert Ollis), The First (and Last) Musical On Mars still looks like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when in grows up. Angel Tuidor’s costuming and Ellen Ranney’s set design suggest heavy influences from 1970’s David Bowie and Roxy Music. Indeed, the use of glitter is almost blinding. But Zarr’s musical compositions are a hodge-podge of pop and Broadway. In fact, hodge-podge is a nice way of putting it. The tune “Sweet Alien Boy” is overlaid on the chord structure of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” but its execution just doesn’t rock. The first act finale, “Sibling Rivalry”, can’t be described as anything other than a messy attempt at pop-operetta.

As space opera, The First (and Last) Musical On Mars is just too jumbled and patched together to excite. Add awkward scene transitions and the show barely holds together. But it does have a few fun and tender moments. Rock star James (Sam Button-Harrison) is forcibly teleported to Mars for the coronation of twin princesses Hendrixia (Gina Sparacino) and Hollilia (Meghan Phillipp) and, ta-da, romantic entanglements ensue. It’s certainly fab to watch the girls zoom about in their ship to the song “Retro-Rocket Warp Speed.” Once James lands, a few tender, romantic moments stand out with the coy duet between him and Holliliah with “Different Beings, Different Worlds” and Button-Harrison’s warm reprise of “You Take Me to Paradise.” It must be noted that the entire cast’s voice quality is quite above standard for musical comedy review. Now, if they only had the material to match their talents.

Sam Button-Harrison in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr. Meghan Phillipp and Sam Button-Harrison in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.

So far as comedy goes, Matthew Isler’s dry robot servant, Electrolux, stands out–and that’s mostly because he has great miniature signage that he flourishes most effectively. All the same, with the exception of brief one-liners like “Earth guys are easy!” the entire book badly needs a rewrite. Dallia Funkaster (Casey Kells) and Zabathoo (Leah Tirado) make decent evil villains, attempting to kill the princesses and take over Mars, but that has entirely to do with their level of enthusiasm and not the writing. Meanwhile, the Chorus (Rachel Bonaquisti, Liz Hanford, and Allison Toth) always comes across sweet and lovely, while Jonas Davidow has to be thanked just for wearing a g-string.

But it’s back to the drawing board for the creator. Or his venture into the heart of shlock will be, dare I say, lost in space.

Rating: ★½

Gina Sparacino, Meghan Phillpp, Sam Button-Harrison and Chorus Rachel Bonaquisti, Liz Hanford, and Allison Toth in New Rock Theater's "The First (and Last) Musical on Mars", by George Zarr.

The First (and Last) Musical on Mars continues through June 19th at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map), with performances Fridays and Satrudays at 10pm and Sundays at 8pm.  Tickets are $15, and can be purchased by phone (773-639-5316) or online at




Gina Sparacino (Hendrixia); Meghan Phillpp (Hollilia); Sam Button-Harrison (James); Rachel Bonaquisti, Liz Hanford, Allison Toth (chorus); Matthew Isler (robot); Casey Kells (Dallia Funkaster); Leah Tirado (Zabathoo); Jonas Davidow

behind the scenes

George Zarr (book/music/lyrics); Kevin Hanna (director); Robert Ollis (musical direction); Angel Tuidor (costumes);  Ellen Ranney (set design); Steven Hill (producer).


6 Responses

  1. I may not know schlock as well as you, but I know what I like. I like this.

  2. i saw the show the other nite i saw the listing here . did you see the exct same show that i saw? i liked the music + the story + the actors and actrsses your probably to old to get it i’m coming back with my friends with tin foil hats

  3. 1 1/2 stars? Not sure if we saw the same thing. I thought the show was great fun and the cast/crew did a good job with the material. I’m already planning on going back this weekend. My only regret about this show is that I didn’t have any foil. It’s what I want to see at 10PM on a weekend.

    To reiterate Fasteddie’s comment, I don’t know schlock as well as you either. Where do you draw lines when something is labelled as “schlock musical comedy?” With this type of stuff it’s more “Did I have fun? Yes? Mission accomplished then.” I hope you don’t judge Saturday afternoon SyFy movies for their cinematic feats and strengths too.

    Anyway, kudos to the cast & crew for venturing out with this.

  4. Schlock or not its all about what you get out of it and I think its great fun for all above the age of 17. There’s some moments of adult humor mixed with the corny sci fi thrill of saturday morning cartoons we all miss in our later years. Enjoy a cast of fun and a script full of crazy.

  5. I went to see the show on opening night, and enjoyed it to the max. I guess I don’t know schlock either -though, having seen everything ever to do with Bruce Campbell, including his two episode stint in a cartoon bout giant robots, New Jersey and Fat dudes*, I can hardly see how that’s true.

    It reminded me of a SciFi** orginal movie (E.G. Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, or Alien Apocalypse) Kept me smiling the whole time.

    (*) Megas XLR – A cartoon about giant robots, New Jersey, and fat dudes. Enough said.

    (**) SciFi – For all the purists. SyFy – The shit is that?

    • @Tupac SyFy is the worst thing to ever happen to that channel 😦

      Anyway, judging from the comments, people are enjoying this “1 1/2 star” show. Go see it!

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