A Mite Short on Wit: Starmites at Porthouse Theatre Tries Hard but Never Takes Flight

You'd think that a Broadway musical that was nominated for six Tony Awards would have a lot going for it. But in the case of the regrettably titled Starmites, now at Porthouse Theatre, there's less to this show than meets the eye.

Turns out, this musical pastiche by Barry Keating and Stuart Ross was nominated in 1989, evidently a down year for original musicals on the Great White Way. In fact, only two other shows were nominated in that category; each were musical revues, not book musicals, and one of them won the Tony.

Starmites are not actually intergalactic ticks, which might have been more interesting. Instead, they are four teenage superheroes operating in Innerspace, Earth's parallel universe where most of the events take place. You see, this is all a comic book saga inspired by young Eleanor, a comix geek who is being harassed by her mom.

So she escapes à la Wendy in Peter Pan to a world where she is a potential universe savior, battling against the forces of evil represented by the Diva (an Aretha Franklin knock-off), backed up by her four Banshees, and Shak Graa (Darian Lunsford) — a low-rent Ming the Merciless. Soon, Eleanor falls for Spacepunk, the leader of the Starmites. But her love jones is interrupted by Diva's daughter Bizarbara, whose mom is pushing her progeny as a better gal pal for Spacepunk. True to the Peter Pan playbook, the Diva and daughter are avatars of Eleanor and her mom.

This is all meant to be a fun parody playing out on a set emblazoned with comic book graphics that oddly have nothing to do with the actual plot of the play. And there is plenty of adolescent fun in this piece, thanks to a mostly college-age cast that blissfully bounces through the exposition-heavy story line and multiple confusing "locales."

What can't be ignored, however, is a remarkable paucity of wit in both the book and the song lyrics. In "Hard to be a Diva," even the talented, big-voiced Colleen Longshaw can't untangle the byzantine lyrics to explain what is exactly so hard, Diva-wise. She has better luck with the gospel-infused "Reach Right Down," an Act 2 motivational anthem unfortunately surrounded by several other lesser anthems.

Perhaps the nadir of lyric writing occurs in the generically-titled "Love Duet," a song burdened with such vapid sentiments ("I found the boy of my dreams/And I know now I'll never let him go") that you want to throttle something.

In the double-cast role of Eleanor/Bizarbara, Lucy Anders sings well and creates some separation between her two characters. But her bland Eleanor doesn't seem quirky and committed enough as a comic book fanatic (have you ever seen those people at ComicCon?). A more eccentric take on that character could add much more zazz to the proceedings.

As her love interest, Daniel Lindenberger's Spacepunk handles his tunes with a stoic hero gloss, but he's not nearly as much fun as he should be. Sure, the other three mighty Mites (Elliott Litherland, Dylan Ratell and Christopher D. Tuck) are kind of a hoot. But director Michael McIntosh has them utilize the Usain Bolt "lightning" pose so often it morphs from a running joke into a tedious gimmick.

And the Banshees that trail after the Diva (Jessica Nicole Benson, Grace Falasco, Miriam Henkel-Moellmann and Mackenzie Duan) lack the kind of go-for-broke dance moves that choreographer Amy Fritsche should have provided. Instead, they swan about the stage waving sticks and mugging. Some Banshees.

Of course, director McIntosh and company are up against it, with a play that sparks very few giggles. But there are worse ways to spend a summer evening than in the pleasant outdoor ambiance of Porthouse Theatre.


Through July 19 at Porthouse Theatre, 1145 West Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-3884.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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