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BWW Reviews: Team StarKidÂ's APOCALYPTOUR: The End of Musical Theater As We Know It, And We Feel Fine


I hardly know where to begin! Let's try this: Imagine that you are majoring in musical theater at a large Midwestern university, and that a couple of your friends-one in particular-enjoy writing pop, rock and gospel-tinged songs with a musical theater vibe. And that you all like pop culture, including blockbuster films, and that parody, of musical theater, pop culture, science fiction and more, comes easily for you. And that you like to perform-a lot-and that you put those performances on video. Maybe you post them online. Like you first did in July of 2009.

Not quite three years later, you and your former college classmates live in several different cities, but mainly Chicago and Los Angeles.  And your five original parody musicals, all filmed during live performances and posted in short segments online, have been viewed 123 million times, three of your eight cast recordings have charted on Billboard, and you've toured the country several times, performing your songs to packed houses-even  though you're all working on other music and theater and film and television projects. Your fan base is young, but growing. And now , you're at it again, for a five-week, 21 city tour.

Of course, I'm talking about StarKid Productions, aka Team StarKid, and their "Apocalyptour," which opened last night at Chicago's House of Blues (a second show is tonight). The troupe behind "A Very Potter Musical," the Billboard phenomenon "Me and My Dick," the BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winning "Starship" and more, heads off to Indianapolis, Nashville, New Orleans and points beyond in the coming days, mostly playing House of Blues venues, but sometimes other clubs and occasionally a theater (the Roseland Theatre in Portland, Oregon, for instance, and the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Kansas). And the show they are presenting? It's a meta, meta, meta musical theater experience, mostly for the young, but young is a relative term. Again, I hardly know where to begin.

First, the audience. It was crowded, but not overly so, even though very few folks over twenty-five were in the place. Most of the ones that were out of school seemed to be parents, escorting their children (very nearly all female) to what may have been their first live concert event (unless it's a theater event-more about that later). And there's nothing wrong with that, but that's what StarKid has become-an internet sensation for teen girls who enjoy contemporary music with their parody, cute boys hanging out with girls who are just like them, and finding an outlet to buy CDs, t-shirts, posters, autographs and the like, all mostly (not entirely) squeaky clean and harmless, like a bubble-gum primer for girls who will like "Wicked" six months later. And this tour, like last fall's "The SPACE Tour," gives them the opportunity, or the fantasy, of being in the same room with young, seemingly regular performers, who they've idolized and come to know on their bedroom computers or after-school fangirl meetups.

Second, the writers. No, Darren Criss wasn't there last night. But the "Glee" star, and the original star of StarKid's first musical (as Harry Potter, the first but not the last time Criss has stepped into Daniel Radcliffe's shoes), is the composer and lyricist of most of the material presented on "Apocalyptour." He will appear as a special guest performer, however, during shows in Los Angeles (at the House of Blues on May 24) and New York (at the Roseland Ballroom on June 10, the tour's last performance). Good luck on getting tickets to those performances! Other songs performed on the tour are mostly by the teams of A. J. Holmes and Carlos Valdes, Mark Swiderski and Grant Anderson, and Nick Gage and Scott Lamps. All the songs are pop, with some rock or gospel touches, all with a musical theater sensibility of character and time and place, but, at least in the solo numbers, no advances of plot, discoveries, achivements of superobjectives or the like (at least not as presented here).

 I must say, however, that several of the songs do deserve to enter the canon of musical theater repertoire, specifically "Not Alone" from "A Very Potter Musical" (Criss), "The Coolest Girl" from "A Very Potter Sequel" (Criss), "Listen To Your Heart" from "Me and My Dick" (Holmes and Valdes), "Hold On Tight" from "Little White Lie" (Swiderski and Anderson) and "Dark Sad Lonely Knight" from "Holy Musical B@man!" (Cage and Lamps). The tour's young music director and keyboardist, Clark Baxtresser, surely contributed much to the stirring choral arrangement of the latter.

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Paul W. Thompson Paul W. Thompson, a contributor to since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as a performer, teacher and writer is centered at Paul W. Thompson Music, located in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building, where he teaches the great songs of Broadway to the next generation of musical theater performers. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Paul was raised in a family of professional musicians and teachers, steeped in classical, gospel, country, pop, sacred and show music. Dubbed a “thin, winsome lad” at the age of 13 by a critic for the Nashville Banner, he earned two degrees in musical theater (a B.F.A. with Honors from Baylor University and an M.M. from the University of Miami, Florida), plus an M.B.A. with Distinction from DePaul University. Paul’s memberships include Actors’ Equity Association, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (proud voter for the Grammy Awards!), the National Association of Teachers of Singing and New York’s Drama League.

Moving easily between the worlds of classical music, religious music, classic pop and musical theater, Paul has appeared onstage or in the orchestra pit in concerts, musicals, operettas and operas in 30 states and in Europe, in a career spanning more than 35 years. His Chicagoland stage credits include “Forever Plaid” at the Royal George Theater and twenty mainstage productions at Light Opera Works. Paul joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 1995 (he was Tenor I Section Leader for four years and sings on two Grammy-winning recordings), and is one of Chicago’s foremost liturgical singers, marking 20 years as a member of the choir at St. James Cathedral (Episcopal) in 2011.He has composed and arranged a number of anthems, hymns and songs for worship and concert use, and collaborates on the creation of new works of musical theater. Paul can be found on Monday nights watching showtune videos at the world-famous Sidetrack nightclub, the inspiration for his weekly column, “The Showtune Mosh Pit.” His proudest achievement is that he has seen the original Broadway production of every Tony Award-winning Best Musical since “Cats.” No, really. Since “Cats!”

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