Few things can fill seats like Star Wars. It’s true in the movie theater, and it looks like it’s true for musical theater, too, as Wilmington’s Bootless Stageworks premieres their own take on the franchise, STAR WARS: A NEW MUSICAL HOPE. On opening night, the Black Box Theater at OperaDelaware (Bootless’ temporary home for this show and their next, EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL, opening later in the summer) was filled to capacity, with families, couples and groups of friends, young and old. If you expect a musical version of Star Wars Episode IV to be a parody heavy on camp, you’d be right. If you expect it to stand alone, however, you might be disappointed. A NEW MUSICAL HOPE requires a certain amount of knowledge of the films — it’s not meant to introduce audiences to the series.
The story, as retold by Jeremy Gable with music and lyrics by Timothy Edward Smith and Hunter Nolan, is pure Episode IV (the first one, released in 1977). The bits of dialogue are straight out of the movie (though, at times, out of order), with original songs and offside comments and gags interspersed. If you’ve watched the movie countless times and add your own riffs to it, and enjoy parodies such as “Troops,” “Chad Vader,” and “Family Guy’s” Blue Harvest, you’re the intended audience. Of course, if you’re in that group, you’ve seen Star Wars parody done very well. A NEW MUSICAL HOPE isn’t on the level of Blue Harvest, but it does have its charm.
The cast features a wide range of talent and experience, from members of the ensemble with no stage experience to seasoned stage professionals. As Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, Luke Skywalker’s ill-fated guardians, Michael Sheldon and Robin Fanelli bring big voices and personality to parts that are barely noted in the film. Maria Leonetti’s operatic voice stands out as Princess Leia, and Shaun Yates is sharp as Obi-Wan Kenobi. The best comedy bits go to Jon Rachlin as Darth Vader and Christopher Todd-Waters as C3PO; unfortunately, the weakest gags go to two of the most central characters, Luke Skywalker (Eli Gordy-Smith) and Han Solo (Ryan Mullholland), who do what they can with gags that fall flat.
In the middle of the show, something interesting happens: a scene that has no direct reference in the movie appears, apparently to fill time while actors change. The song “All Alone,” written by Robert Diton with lyrics by Rosanne DellAversano, has Princess Leia grieving her lost home planet and considering her fate. It’s not at all comic, but it’s the best song in the show — not least of all because it shows Leia in a way that the movie never did, but probably should have.
Other highlights include the well-choreographed light sabre duel between Obi-Wan and Vader, and the mesmerizing Rebel Fleet, who become X-Wing Fighters personified. Most of the costuming is Halloween costume-grade (but again, it’s camp, so the costumes work), with the exception of an amazing platform-footed Chewbacca (Bob Ferst, who also has the Chewbacca roar down) and an impressive motorized R2D2 costume controlled by youngsters Shane and Steven Fagel.
While the show may not be for everyone, most fans will have a blast with STAR WARS: A NEW MUSICAL HOPE, imperfections and all.
STAR WARS: A NEW MUSICAL HOPE
Based on the movie by George Lucas
Book Adaptation by Jeremy Gable
Original Music & Lyrics by Timothy Edward Smith and Hunter Nolen
June 7 – 17, 2012
4 South Poplar Street
Wilmington, DE 19801