The latest offering from fandom’s most beloved theatre troupe Team StarKid is a DVD filmed at their one-off A Very StarKid Reunion, a live concert performed in October in honor of their alma mater’s 100th anniversary.
On October 8, 1500 people filled the University of Michigan’s esteemed Power Center to watch the members of Team StarKid bring their strange little success story home, as part of the college’s 100-year celebrations for their Department of Theatre and Drama.
The reunion concert, featuring the work of over 30 StarKids onstage and behind-the-scenes, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both the performers and their fans, but given their viral rise to fame, StarKid’s worldwide online fan community who’ve followed their story for so long was keen to bear witness to an event that seemed such a full-circle moment. Thankfully, the Team StarKid bosses made good on their promise to make the show available for viewing by Christmas: A Very StarKid Reunion dropped online on December 4, with an all-regions DVD and digital download available now.
Our review of the ‘A Very StarKid Reunion’ DVD
The concert began — as if there was any other option — with the same image that captured people’s attention back in the summer of 2009: lights up on a packing trunk on an otherwise empty stage. A crazy-haired boy with a lightning scar who back then, much like Harry, didn’t know that the world was about to become his oyster, starts to sing about how he’s got to escape his cruel aunt and uncle and get back to school. Opening with the number that made them an instant internet sensation, Darren Criss leads most of the original cast of A Very Potter Musical in “Goin’ Back To Hogwarts,” in which the entrance of every character is met with wild cheers, and the sentiment “it’s great to come back to where we began” holds a special significance. This is the night’s first moment in which UMich is branded as Team StarKid’s very own Hogwarts, but it won’t be the last.
After the introduction-that-needs-no-introduction, the show’s structure is fairly straightforward: the 20-strong performers, broken up into different groups, perform a number from each of the musicals StarKid have created, in chronological order. In the past six years, Team StarKid have produced nine full-length musicals, two sketch comedy shows and a double handful of albums. They’ve taken their songs and performed them, sometimes re-orchestrated, for two national concert tours and dozens of convention appearances and one-off events. What sets A Very StarKid Reunion apart from the group’s previous live concert endeavors is the fact that this night is truly a showcase of the StarKid canon — rather than a setlist of stand-alone songs, the group performs a snippet from each show: a song, of course, but in costume, in character, with choreography, preceded by a full scene of dialogue.
I won’t spoil each revisited scene, but seeing the members of StarKid slip back into some of those iconic moments — from another AVPM scene featuring a couple of beloved characters not featured in “Goin’ Back To Hogwarts,” right through to The Trail to Oregon!, StarKid’s first Off-Broadway venture in New York City, was a rare treat. Given the amount of Michigan Theatre alums that were in town for the the 100-year celebration events, the company kept in mind that the audience watching in the Power Center may not all be dedicated StarKid fans, so each number was introduced by cast members not participating in that particular scene, with a few behind-the-scenes facts given to contextualize the moment the audience was about to see — for example, Darren Criss introduced Starship, a show he composed but wasn’t able to perform in, and described his odd, and rather sad, disconnect from the group as he was working on the show’s music while filming his first season on Glee.
For StarKid fans — especially old-school StarKid fans — the Darren Criss situation is always going to be weird, and his presence at events like this always has us heaving a sigh of relief. From what we’ve heard from the rest of the StarKid gang, that sentiment seems to extend to them, at times, too. In the years after Hollywood took him away from StarKid, the group, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek bitterness, poked fun at his situation and at Glee in general, and with his return to the fold for this reunion, I must say, I expected a little of it somewhere during this performance. However, there was none: the closest they come is crediting him as unemployed when listing everyone’s day jobs in the special-feature cast interviews, and Criss himself laughing Glee off as “that damned TV show.”
Perhaps Criss, like most of the Glee fandom, is still feeling some burnout from the show’s less-than-graceful demise, but regardless, he is a star, and he has the ambition and the resume to prove it. This is a guy who entered a hit TV show as a guest actor and who left five years later as its leading male, who recently carried a taxing one-man Broadway show (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) on his back. He’s an enigmatic solo performer, but one of my favorite things about Criss is that when he’s with Team StarKid, he never seems to pull focus. His number in the A Very Potter Sequel segment (which happens to be one of the best songs he’s ever personally penned) is as show-stopping as anything he’s ever done onstage, and yet even that still doesn’t turn the night into The Darren Criss Variety Hour.
Criss is excellent at turning on the celebrity factor. He’s also excellent at turning it off. He’s, above all, adaptable, and despite the fact that he appears in this concert as one of its big draws, in the lead role of Harry, his presence feels just as expected, yet just as unremarkable, as any of the returning cast. He’s one of the gang, as happy to dance in back as lead up front, and in the best possible way, he doesn’t stand out. This isn’t new: this is a quality that fans have witnessed every time Criss has returned to perform with StarKid over the past five years, and it makes sense: he’s not competing with these people, there’s nothing to prove and nothing at stake. It’s just what he comes home to.
As various members explain in the special features, StarKid was asked return to the University of Michigan to do this concert by Priscilla Lindsay, the Chair of Theatre and Drama, as part of the celebrations for their department’s 100th anniversary. Like most StarKid ventures, the concept for the event started out small and then snowballed into something that a less savvy and less charmed company would have lost control of. They came together as a full cast mere days before, and the rehearsals were, to quote StarKid staple Joe Walker, “just like old times: a fucking nightmare.” In the end, the event went off without a noticeable hitch, which, if you’ve been along for the ride with these guys over the years, you’ll recognize as the way things tend to unfold. “It went a lot better than a lot of us thought, which is a StarKid tradition, if not our proudest legacy,” Criss quipped after the fact.
With cast interviews ranging from sarcastic to sweetly earnest, the 55-minute documentary that’s attached to the concert DVD (or available for purchase as a separate digital download) is one of the most in-depth glimpses at Team StarKid behind the scenes that fans have ever been given. Particularly delightful to watch are several accounts of the ‘origin stories’ in their circle — who lived with who, how they met, and their first impressions of each other. As the cast reminisces about their creative education at UMich, including their favorite former classes and professors, it serves to remind viewers that, despite songs about toilets, vaginas and cartoon characters, this is a company of very fine and gifted performers who take their craft and their training seriously. It’s constantly surprising that more members of this group haven’t achieved the mainstream success of Criss, or more recently, StarKid composer Carlos Valdes, who’s currently starring as Cisco on The Flash, but give them time. It’s only too easy to imagine the absurd talents of StarKids like Meredith Stepien, Lauren Lopez, Brian Holden and Jeff Blim as a new generation’s SNL cast.
Team StarKid are lightning in a bottle. They’re a success story that could have only happened in this day and age. There’s no middle-man marketing their product to external audiences: ultimately, they exist because we want them to exist, and because we help them to exist. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing — in fact, one of the introduction segments during A Very StarKid Reunion addresses the fact that they almost retired the company after the third Very Potter show, but obviously, they continue to thrive. They always wing it, and they always pull it off. And there’s no end in sight: as Criss farewells the audience, he claims that the closing lyrics of “Days of Summer” are true: “you never need to say goodbye, because we’re probably going to be doing this for the rest of our lives.”
Our top 5 moments of ‘A Very StarKid Reunion’
Draco’s Teenage Dream: Lauren Lopez’s first entrance as Draco was so well received the band had to hold for applause and Darren Criss actually broke character to motion to the audience to keep up the cheering. In the special features, Criss and Lopez discussed how he encouraged her to do the character’s signature roll on the floor, despite it not originating in that scene. Criss compared the move to his own fans’ obsession with his first Glee hit, explaining his experience with learning to give people what they want, even if you’re not super into it, but then being happy that you’ve made them happy.
Revisiting the Council of Rogues: Holy Musical B@man! might be StarKid’s most polished, accessible and clever show, with some of the best songs the company has ever produced, and this scene was a great choice to represent the company’s deep bench of players. The costumes are stunningly created, Jeff Blim shines again as Sweet Tooth, and Joey Richter is side-splitting filling in for the absent Chris Allen as Two-Face.
The Spider-Man Irony: The moment StarKid chose to recreate from their final Potter venture, A Very Potter Senior Year, was the scene in which Harry visits Godric’s Hollow and meets Dumbledore in disguise as a construction man. This hilarious yet deeply poignant moment sees Harry devastated by the idea of changing and moving on, and, during the original production, Dumboledore used the metaphor of a new Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) to illustrate his comforting lesson. Given that we now have Tom Holland in the role, the scene received a few edits to take this fact into account, driving the message home harder than ever.
The Final Farewell: The show’s encore broke from the in-character scenes by presenting the cast in their own casual wear, coming together just as themselves to sing a few final numbers. They began with an elegant version of “Not Alone,” with choral harmonies, leading into their ultimate goodbye song, “Days of Summer.” Criss remained onstage to farewell the audience — especially the school’s new freshmen in attendance — with his final Senior Year ‘epilogue’ moment, adapted to fit Michigan instead of Hogwarts, and the entire company returned for StarKid’s most energetic group number, “Super Friends.”
Dylan Saunders crooning “Beauty” to a cat: Yes, that is a thing that happens, and it is glorious.
A Very StarKid Reunion is available exclusively from The Ann Arbor T-Shirt Company.