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Kelly Aliano


AMERICAN STAR!!! -- Stacey (Alexa Criscitiello, L) finally becomes a star, thanks to the support of the celebrity judge Maxine (Verna Hampton, center) and Stacey's mother (Valois Marie Mickens, R). Photo by Adele Bossard.

April 11 to 28, 2013
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at East 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$15 gen. admission; $12 students and seniors
Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Reviewed by Kelly Aliano, April 21, 2013

"American Star!!! The Musical" both mocks and revels in contemporary popular culture. At its best moments, it is a cutting satire of our obsession with celebrity culture. At its worst, however, it seems to pander directly to that culture it wishes to excoriate. Written and directed by William Electric Black, with music by William Electric Black and Gary Schreiner, this inconsistent musical has some bright spots, but the overall leaves a lot to be desired.

The design is fine throughout. Hat sculpture by Lytza R. Colon.

The story focuses on Stacey, a high schooler with her heart set on becoming a star. Her method for achieving this goal: auditioning for a show entitled "American Star," much like the real-world "American Idol," where young people are voted through to stardom. We witness many of the trials and tribulations of her young ambition, usually filtered through some pop culture reference and always in song. Stacey attempts to find her way to the convention center to try out, is continually thwarted, and meets a crazy cast of characters along the way. They introduce her to new ideas, like how to "occupy," remind her of some classic notions, like the importance of MJ, and enrich her life in ways television stardom might be never be able to.

Throughout the show, there are many conventional sounding musical numbers, despite unconventional lyrics, which are structured to have various verses, a catchy hook, and to allow for ensemble dance numbers. Some of the songs are quite charming and this group of performers is impressive in their exuberance and sheer musical talent. However, most songs belabor their best jokes and outstay their on-stage welcome. Additionally, so many of these jokes are so deeply entrenched in their pop culture source material, that if one were not aware of the allusion--such as the personalities of the cast of folks on "Jersey Shore"--one would probably be lost as to what is happening on stage. That being said, the pop cultural satire is far stronger than the more politicized humor of the second act, which often misses the mark in its punch lines and can be as grating as it is entertaining.

Foreground: Michael Perrie Jr as Occupy. Photo by Adele Bossard.
LLMJ, the Michael Jackson aficionado (Brandon Mellette, R) introduces himself to Stacey (Alexa Criscitiello, L). Photo by Adele Bossard.

The plot is thin and the characters are more one-dimensional caricatures of modern types than well-rounded people. It is hard to engage with any arc in this narrative; all of the people presented seem fairly unlikable, even those meant to take the audience on an empathetic ride. Most endearing are a young protestor called "Occupy" and a Michael Jackson aficionado who goes by "LLMJ," in tribute to the fallen star. The charm of these characters is likely due to their admirable portrayals by Michael Perrie Jr. and Brandon "SNGDNC" Mellette, respectively. The play itself is as unbalanced as the characters; some scenes speed along while others take a great deal of stage time. The pacing is further slowed by long lighting changes in between scenes. Although the design is fine throughout, it does little to bolster scenes that are already faltering.

All in all, for a pop culture scene queen or the like, this might be just the play to see. The cast is incredibly energetic and the jokes just keep on coming. For someone with a piqued cultural critic's eye, this play might also be meaningful and important in mirroring that critique of our current society. For me, this piece never quite attained star status. The blend of elements--political, satirical, mad-cap comedic and heartfelt--never quite mixed into a whole. The performers all give star turns, but "American Star!!!" would likely not get my vote.


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