Company: StarKid Productions
Venue: Stage 773
Die Roll: 4
The experience of a StarKid show starts in the lobby. The place isn’t decorated, or thematically connected to the show. It’s not immersive in that way. However, because of the energy that permeates the place from about an hour prior to curtain, it’s worth showing up a bit early. My daughter and I arrived for the show 50 minutes prior to curtain and there was already a line fifteen to twenty people deep. That line wasn’t at the theatre door. These were folks who already had their tickets and who were now eagerly, if not aggressively waiting to purchase tank tops and other swag from the StarKid productions kiosk in the lobby of Stage 773. Now in their 7th successful year of combining live theatre with YouTube stardom, the company has throngs of fans between the ages of 15 and 25. When I told my daughter (who usually resides in Minnesota) which show we would be attending this week, she filled me in on the history of the company and made me watch a few segments of their first Harry Potter-themed hit online. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise that the audience is young and excited. And, while youth can never really be recaptured, their exuberance was easily caught.
So it was that I went into the Proscenium stage ready for something big. And, what I expected, I received. “Firebringer” is a rock musical about a tribe of cave people comprised largely of individuals who seem most likely to be left far behind in the race for survival. None of them seem to be the “fittest”, to be sure. But all that changes when one of their own discovers fire and rocks the then-known world to its core.
The show is narrated by a past leader of the tribe, Molag (Lauren Walker), a staff-toting combination of Rafiki (“The Lion King”) and Slappy the Squirrel (“Animaniacs”). It is her snarky wisecracks and blunt insults which set the tone for the show. Walker’s energy and comedic chops help create the world of the play instantly. Her self-aware presentation allows for a brilliant combination of story-telling and social commentary. From her first time addressing the audience as “privileged fucks”, you know she’s not going to pull any punches.
Molag’s replacement as leader of the cave people is Jemilla (played by the charismatic Meredith Stepien, who also co-wrote the show’s music). Jemilla is known as “The Peacemaker” and rules an orderly society. Not everyone is happy, though. Zazzalil (Lauren Lopez) strives to do more in order to do less. She is motivated to accomplish big things so that eventually all people can be lazy. She somehow lucks into finding fire, and defeating a prehistoric monster, which leads to her assent to the role of chief in the tribe.
All of that happens before the intermission. It’s a fast-moving, tightly scripted piece, and the energy is electric. The script itself is a bit campy and far too dependent on the shock humor of hearing people say “fuck” a lot. But, the production quality is really high. And the dancing and singing are top notch for a storefront production. Only one song has the familiar sound of a piece searching for the right notes like so many local (and mostly improvised) musicals do. The rest have solid melodies, harmonies, and even clever rhyme schemes. The set was simple, but effective. The band was great, if a little too loud at times. Russ Walko’s puppets are impressive works of art, and Yonit Olshan’s shadow puppets create a suspenseful sequence in the middle of the show.
The whole thing is greater than the sum of its parts, and it has a lot of parts. The action flits around from scene to scene, and yet the audience follows along well. It all seems geared for the quick edit style of those raised on modern television. One scene takes place in the wilderness, the next at an impromptu open mic night, then it’s back to the cave for a duck-worshiping ceremony. It’s all a bit ridiculous, which makes it all the more fun.
For a group that normally lampoons major works of pop culture, it is cool to see them do something wholly original. The cast gets it completely right, and the audience leaves one hundred percent enamored with the show. The high energy that entered the theater two hours earlier, leaves still energized and positive. And still wanting more of the company’s swag.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Smart snark and pop rock sent from the stone age.
RATING: d20 — “One of the Best”