On November 1, Team StarKid released Apocalyptour: Live in Los Angeles, a live DVD showcasing one of the three LA dates on the troupe’s national concert tour which took place in May and June of this year.
For Apocalyptour, StarKid released a physical DVD and a digital download of the content simultaneously – a first for any of their productions – meaning that the fans who had to wait days or weeks for the shipping of their SPACE Tour DVDs can access this show immediately upon purchasing. Thanks to this development, you can read our take on the new StarKid DVD below.
It’s still a bit of a jolt to see the faces of Team StarKid in high definition DVD quality, performing on a huge stage in front of a packed house. It feels confusing somehow, almost a little wrong, to see them in a glossier and more professional medium than their homemade videos or admittedly increasingly no-longer-so-grainy YouTube footage taped in small dark theatres, and you start to wonder at the enormity of it all, asking, “Who let them do that? How did this happen? When did StarKid go from this to THIS?”
When something exists primarily on the Internet, it can be difficult to grasp how large a scale it may be affecting, how far it truly reaches. For many people, being a StarKid fan is still quite a small and underground thing, something that isn’t fed to them through filters of PR, advertising, marketing and record labels. But the reality of the situation is that this merry troupe spent the early summer crossing America, selling out venues that most contemporary musicians would be lucky to fill, and being met at each stop with a fan fervour that the stars of Broadway would rarely be met with at any stage door, unless they’re hosting an extra-special celebrity. They may not be household names, but the Internet is bigger than any household, and Team StarKid have grown to become the Internet’s biggest rock stars.
Apocalyptour: Live in Los Angeles differs structurally from 2011’s SPACE Tour DVD in that it presents the Apocalyptour concert in full, from start to finish, as opposed to cutting between musical numbers with talking heads and behind-the-scenes moments. On one hand, the lack of backstage footage is somewhat disappointing. For many fans, the individual personalities in Team StarKid are as big a draw-card as the songs, and when the group goes on tour, fans desire as much personal content as possible – exposure to the antics of their favorite StarKids unguarded in their natural habitat. However, Apocalyptour supplies what SPACE does not in presenting fans with a full run-through of the performance, from curtain up to curtain down, so fans at home may experience the entire set as if they were there in the audience of the Los Angeles House of Blues.
Unlike SPACE, Apocalyptour features a scripted story – written by Brian Holden, Nick Lang and Matt Lang – in which the StarKids have decided to give up singing and dancing to become travelling archaeologists. They uncover an Apocalyptic prophecy and when they accidentally activate it, they are faced with Margaret, the Mayan god of chaos and death. Margaret (played excruciatingly hilariously by a straight-faced and be-skirted Jim Povolo) also happens to be the god of musical theatre, so the StarKids are forced to go back to their singing and dancing ways, performing to save their lives – and the world – from destruction. In the end, the crisis is averted and Margaret herself joins Team StarKid.
The concept is rescued from being cheesy by how self-aware the script is. It’s nowhere near as tight as one of their musicals, because here, the story merely serves as a fuzzy backdrop to get from number to number in a set-list made up of songs created for other musicals, but the humour is full of lamp-shading and self-deprecation. Not a single person could have missed the joke about how an absent StarKid being “consumed by a giant, greedy Fox” was one of the signs of the impending Apocalypse. When a performance from Brian Rosenthal as Joey Richter’s Heart is praised by the others, Joey quips that “he used to be a lot better but then he got cast in a non-Equity production of Young Frankenstein,” referencing A.J. Holmes, the originator of the Heart role in Me and My Dick. When asked by Margaret if the StarKids were criminals, Dylan Saunders offers that he likes stealing from Whole Foods, and Joey pipes up again saying, “and I appeared on the Disney show Jessie, Fridays at 8 p.m.,” before the others clap hands over his mouth and drag him off. Later, when Margaret fails to be impressed by the group, she calls their performance “skimpy and lyrically uninspired,” direct quotes from critical reviews of Starship, by Time Out and the Chicago Reader respectively.
And in classic StarKid style, they never go for the obvious joke. These are people who have a habit of, first and foremost, doing things that they themselves find funny, including playing tricks on the audience. When they perform the title number to Me and My Dick, the group censors themselves, cutting one another off coyly to avoid saying the “D” word. Someone unfamiliar with their wickedness – a parent, perhaps – would pick up the obvious missing rhyme and make the leap that StarKid was attempting to make the show family-friendly, due to the large number of young fans the group has accrued despite the adult material of some of their musicals. It’s a fair assumption. That’s what StarKid want you to think. But the joke is a double-cross, as they end the entire set with a reprise of the “Me and My Dick” chorus, dragging it out to the last minute when they use the actual lyric, in a matter of fact and self-satisfied way.
The loose plot uses throwaway lines to lead into musical numbers. Brian Holden, having a moment of insecurity about their situation, is told by the others to man up and shut up, which prompts his rendition of “Guys Like Potter,” A Very Potter Sequel‘s song about Snape getting bullied. Other songs are grouped thematically, such as a collection of scheming villain songs from several StarKid productions, and a section of the set dedicated to various duets. Given that only nine of the thirty-something people involved in Team StarKid appeared onstage at the Apocalyptour, the songs were all rearranged for different soloists and groups by StarKid’s musical director, Clark Baxtresser. Some, such as Joe Walker and Brian Rosenthal’s Voldemort/Quirrell duet “Different As Can Be,” remain almost identical to their original performance, but the award for most creative new arrangement would have to be a tie between the jazzed up, up-tempo redesign of “Guys Like Potter,” and the duet between Dylan Saunders and Jaime Lyn Beatty on a mash-up of “Sami” from Little White Lie and “Harry” from A Very Potter Musical. Originally the same song, written by Darren Criss, it was transferred from one production to another before StarKid had any audience to speak of.
Other musical highlights include the beautiful harmonies on Starship‘s “The Way I Do,” some of Criss’ finest work as a composer; Joey Richter and Lauren Lopez on “Granger Danger,” which was genius the first time we saw it and still holds up – in fact somehow keeps improving – after three and a half years; the build-up from solo to group number on Holy Musical B@man’s “Dark, Sad, Lonely Knight,” and the impossibly infectious “Super Friends” from the same production. StarKid also seemed to draw inspiration from their prodigal son, as their rendition of A Very Potter Musical‘s “Not Alone” – also a Darren Criss trademark solo number – features a strong solo by Jaime Lyn Beatty and gospel choir-style backing vocals, an arrangement that seems to echo Criss’ performance of the number at the 2010 Trevor Project Live event. “Not Alone” is also the only performance on the DVD where the sounds of the crowd singing along are turned up in the audio mix, and the effect is haunting.
All in all, Apocalyptour: Live In Los Angeles is an enjoyable watch for any StarKid fan. Despite the caricature of slap-dash mediocrity Team StarKid humorously paint of themselves, the performances are skilled and solid, and the entire production demonstrates the growth of this group of people – who, never forget, basically fell into this – both as artists and as businesspeople. The desire to keep improving and produce professional quality work for an audience initially drawn in and made loyal by the grassroots, DIY dynamics of your operation must be a delicate balance to maintain; yet maintain it StarKid do, and in doing so, they continue to create something that the world has never quite seen the likes of before.
Apocalyptour: Live in Los Angeles is available now at Team StarKid’s web-store. For those still craving behind-the-scenes content, the physical Apocalyptour DVD features an exclusive video diary chronicling the day leading up to the tour’s final show in New York City. Apocalyptour: Live In Los Angeles includes performances by Dylan Saunders, Joey Richter, Joe Walker, Brian Holden, Brian Rosenthal, Jim Povolo, Meredith Stepien, Lauren Lopez and Jaime Lyn Beatty. Apocalyptour featured songs by A.J. Holmes, Carlos Valdes, Darren Criss, Mark Swiderski, Nick Gage and Scott Lamps, music direction by Clark Baxtresser, tour direction by Julia Albain, and was filmed by Liam White.