12:30 pm EDT, July 21, 2014

Starkid’s ‘Ani: A Parody’ review: A non-musical musical

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Team Starkid’s newest show, Ani: A Parody, is a fun adventure for Star Wars fans and puts a new spin on a typical musical show.

The 2014 Starkid Summer Season has truly been one of change and growth, especially noticeable in their main musicals. Like The Trail to Oregon, Ani: A Parody is also really different from other Starkid shows from the past.

Written by Matt and Nick Lang, Ani: A Parody takes place in the time between the original Star Wars films (episodes 4-6) and the three prequels. The show tells the story of Darth Vader and his yearning for the good ol’ days. He decides to embark on a quest to reclaim some of his glory (and improve his reputation) and, of course, silly hijinks ensue.

The cast consists of the Summer Season Starkids that aren’t in The Trail to Oregon: Nick Lang, Meredith Stepien, Brian Holden, Chris Allen, Joe Walker, Denise Donovan, Eric Kahn Gale, Julia Albain, and Joe Moses. And no, just like in our previous review, we’re not telling you who plays who (or even all of the characters that are involved) because it’s more fun that way.

One of the biggest differences between this production and previous ones is that it’s what we like to call a “non-musical musical.” Why’s that? Because none of the actors do any singing. At all. At least, not while in character. TalkFine, Clark Baxtresser’s musical group with his friend Pierce Siebers, not only wrote all of the music and lyrics for the show, but performed them as well (with help from a backing band and, for a lot of the show, Meredith Stepien).

While the music narrates the events of the show and there are fun group dance numbers a la “Super Friends,” the performers on stage don’t sing a single note. Ani: A Parody almost feels like a normal movie that has a soundtrack with lyrics that the characters are aware of and dance/emote to. In fact, there are even a few moments in the show where the band (which is clearly visible on the left side of the stage) gets roped into the story. We really did miss experiencing the actors singing, but we thought that TalkFine did a really great job in their place. They’re a very talented duo that deserves a ton of recognition for this show.

Starkid showsAs far as characters go, there is a wide variety of faces and names from the Star Wars franchise. There are characters that are instantly recognizable, some that take a few moments to place, and others, if you’re not a hard core Star Wars fan, that seem almost completely new. Or, at least, that’s how one of the characters felt to us. We didn’t even know that one character even existed in the Star Wars universe.

Jar Jar Binks is actually one of the best parts of this musical, if you’d believe that. It’s not because the musical is bad, but because his character is just so good and personable. The scene in which we meet up with his character definitely shaped our perspective of him for the rest of the show. He’s honestly the heart of the show and the actor who plays him is perfect at highlighting his positive qualities. Well, that and mastering the Jar Jar Binks’ speech pattern. It’s practically infectious.

It goes without saying that everyone in the show was wonderful. In our eyes, Brian Holden and Nick Lang were the show’s true MVPs with their performances being over the top yet perfect. Eric Kahn Gale was also really impressive, especially as one character in particular. He really got into his more main character and had quite a large stage presence every time he stepped out into the light.

One of our favorite scenes in the entire show comes in the second act with just a few characters sitting around a table. What makes this scene so awesome is the fact that they rip apart and expose all of the most gaping flaws in the prequels in a single conversation. It’s not bashing, per say, but rather a really great way of paying tribute to the source material while also making fun of all of the plot holes and ridiculous story points.

Out of all of the Team Starkid parodies, Ani: A Parody is the one that’s most reliant on its source material in that if you’re not familiar with it, you’ll miss out on a lot. You’ll still find it entertaining, but there are a lot of one-liners and actual Star Wars jokes that the characters tell that require varying levels of Star Wars knowledge. So, we definitely recommend having watched the series. If you don’t have time to watch all six movies, make sure to watch the prequels (because they’re the butts of all of the jokes) and have a general idea of major villains in the original three movies.

Ani: A Parody is another great installment in Team Starkid’s repertoire. While it isn’t a true Starkid musical, it’s a fun parody that will need multiple viewings in order to catch every joke and jab.

Team Starkid’s summer season runs through the beginning of August at Stage 773 in Chicago. While you can no longer buy season passes, you can still purchase regular tickets to some of the remaining shows and late night programming.

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