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Sci-fi musical STARMITES should delight many at Porthouse

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

There was “Star Trek.”  Then “Star Wars.”  Then there were the werewolves and vampires.  Then “Hunger Games.” Now there is “Starmites.”

On the surface, “Starmites” is a farcical musical about Eleanor, a shy, awkward, teenage girl who escapes from the real world through an obsession with sci-fi comic books.   Her walls are covered with space age drawings.  Her bedspread and stuffed animals follow suit.  Much to the consternation of her mother, the bedroom is enveloped in comic books.  Something has to change!

Change comes when Eleanor becomes a participant in her fantasies and she gets involved in an intergalactic adventure in which she is carried off into a conflict between the evil Shak Graa and the Starmites, guardian angels of Innerspace.

The “mites” believe that Eleanor is pre-ordained to save the universe. (What kind of fantasy would this be without a shy female who turns from nerd to heroine?)  Her task is to find a powerful musical instrument (which is also a ray gun) before it falls into the hands of Shak Graa.  (Ah, the intrigue builds.)   In their quest, the Starmites and Eleanor are joined by a lizard named Trinkulus who leads them into the Shriekwood forest.  (Be wary of the green lizard that appears from nowhere!)  Of course, in the process, Eleanor and Space Punk, the leader of the Starmites, fall in love.  (Don’t roll your eyes, this is a female tween fantasy and there has to be a love story.)

Of course there are a couple of plot twists, a challenge to the destruction of the lives of the young lovers, but in the end the shy one and her geeky boy friend win out.  (Would you expect anything else?)

If one were to analyze the goings on of this youthful, high-energy fantasy, they’d discover a theme of discovering self-confidence, building self-esteem, and how we discover the center of our strength.

The script contains many spoofs on the sci-fi genre that might go right over the heads of adults and young children, but the tweens who I was watching in the audience seemed much more attuned to the references and the experiences of right versus wrong in an out of the world way, and “in” references to the on-going language and plight of the mid-young set.

“Starmites,” with music and lyrics by Barry Keating and book by Stuart Ross and Keating, saw its first light in 1980 at the Off-Off-Broadway Ark Theatre.  It then moved Off-Broadway in 1987 and on to the Great White Way in 1989, where it ran for 60 performances.  It received six Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.  (That must have been a weak Broadway season.  Yes, the winner was Jerome Robbins’ “Broadway” with the other nominee being “Black and Blue.”  The never heard from again, “Blue and Black”).  Even with that underwhelming  competition,  “Starmites” won no awards.

Keating’s music is mostly doo-wop, with a little gospel and ballad sounds thrown in.  The songs, none of which hit the top ten, include “Superhero Girl,” “Afraid of the Dark,” “Attack of the Banshees,” “The Dance of Spousal Arousal,” and “Imolation.”  (No, I did not conjure-up these title!)

Interestingly, there are three different versions of “Starmites.”  A junior version is intended for grade and middle schools. “Starmites High School” is aimed at the upper school grades, and “Starmites Pro,” the version being produced at Porthouse, is intended for community theatre and professional-level productions.

Porthouse’s production, under the direction of Michael McIntosh, has some nice touches.  It also misses out on some of the intended fun.  There were just not enough Marx Brother’s moments.  The script is fantasy, high farce, ridiculous. The audience laughed in parts, where they should have been hysterical.  The pace was too languid. (Since I saw a preview performance it is hoped that once the cast gets used to playing before an audience, they  will let loose, have more fun, and play for the laughs and realize the ridiculousness of the script.  Hey guys and gals, this isn’t Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams.)

The music was fine, but needed to have some Spike Jones-like sounds to accent and underscore the ironic idiocy.

The comic book set, props and costumes were okay, but, they, too, could have been more outlandish.  The choreography needed more verve, more gimmicks and less traditional “Broadway” moves.

There were some nice performances.

Lucy Anders, as Eleanor, has a nice voice.  Her “Love Duet,” sung with the animated, comic and dance-talented, Daniel Lindenberger, (the most Broadway- ready of the student performers), was well performed.  Lindenberger and the Starmites’ (Elliott Lintherland, Dylan Ratell and Christopher Tuck) rendition of “Milady” was nicely sung but needed a little more dynamism.

Colleen Longshaw wailed in “Hard to Be Diva.”

“Reach Right Down” sung by The Starmites, Diva, Eleanor and the Banshees (Jessica Nicole Benson, Grace Falasco, Miriam Henkel-Moellmann and Mackenzie Duan) rocked the house.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Artistic Director Terri Kent and the Porthouse staff, knowing their audiences, usually play it safe, producing the tried and true musicals (e.g., “My Fair Lady,” “Sound of Music.”)  Doing “Starmites” was a stretch.  It will be interesting to evaluate how the audiences respond and whether that encourages future stretching of the boundaries.  (I’d love to see them do “First Date” or “Bridges of Madison County,” recent Broadway shows.)  As for the production, I would have preferred that, as the powers that be had picked a ridiculous farce, that director Michael Macintosh, had pulled out all the stops and created a staging that was parallel to the bizarre sci-fi plot. 

“Starmites” runs from July 19, 2014 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center.


NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: “Oliver”” which runs July 24-August 10.  Curtain time is 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90-minutes prior to curtain time.

For tickets

or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884