The Last Star Fighter
nytheatre.com review by Lois Spangler
September 29, 2007
The Last Star Fighter has no business being as good as it is, and the only reason it is so good is because composer/lyricist Skip Kennon and author Fred Landau selected the only conceit that could make this story work as a musical. Instead of simply retelling the movie, the musical takes place shortly after the events of the film: the denizens of Starlite Starbrite Trailer Park take it upon themselves to tell the story to those curious souls who've come to the place mentioned in tabloid articles as the landing site of an alien spaceship. In other words, it's a second-hand telling of how Alex Rogan, a teenager stuck in a trailer park, becomes the savior of the galaxy by proving his worth as a starfighter pilot first by conquering a video game, and later by actually defeating an assembled enemy host in the far reaches of outer space.
One admirable thing about the show: it's not at all necessary to be familiar with the 1984 movie that inspired it. Details are charmingly related by all the folks who live in the trailer park; there's not a soul you don't like—not even the requisite '80s movie teen cad—and there's a sense of innocence, honesty, and directness that's refreshing in today's far more cynical atmosphere. It's that innocence, in fact, that make both the movie and this musical so engaging.
At its core, the story is nothing more than a tale of unexpected greatness, of how anyone can aspire to be—and become—something far greater than what he currently is. By tapping into this very human theme, the musical is driven by songs that, while still deftly clinging to just the right measure of that guilty-pleasure '80s cheese, resonate with the audience. In particular is "Love is Like Water," made all the more compelling by the beautiful rapport among the four main women of the show: Maggie, Alex's girlfriend; Granny, Maggie's grandmother; Elaine, Granny's contemporary and close friend; and Mrs. Rogan, Alex's mother.
As a whole, the lyrics are strong, and, from what little I can remember, keep a reasonable amount of original dialog from the film. The music is vibrant and enthusiastic and adeptly captures the spirit of the story, again eschewing cynicism for earnest and sincere innocence.
The only parts of the show I felt were a little forced or uneven are the sections that occur outside of the trailer park—anything that happens in outer space. Part of me feels that this is intentional. After all, the folks Alex left behind didn't witness firsthand what he did; they can only reconstruct what little he's told them. But at the same time I felt those parts were just a little too stilted, and I think that's because Kennon and Landau excel so much with the really human themes of the story. Most of the events in space are more epic in scope and feel that way.
Overall, I had a really great time, and the show is well worth seeing. The cast is very strong and work beautifully together, with the added bonus that they all look like they're enjoying themselves immensely on stage. The music is lovely, and the story about aspirations, self-doubt, and overcoming fear is one that will resonate with just about anyone.