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The Stars of Mars launches to Madcap Success: Theatre Sheridan Review

The Stars of Mars
The Stars of Mars launches to Madcap Success: Theatre Sheridan Review
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the Oakville News publishing assistant and arts reporter. He started with the news in 2016 and now specializes in current and live events, film, theatre and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB and has lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Proud Sheridan grad of Journalism and Performing Arts. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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While Sheridan College is known for producing among the best theatre in town, true masterpieces are still rare. The Stars of Mars not only joins those ranks but is also the best instalment of the Canadian Music Theatre Project in years.

Nearly every aspect and emphatic element of the show is singularly genius. The songs are catchy and fun while also crafting an exciting, high-stakes story. The book and lyrics are consistently funny and draw non-stop laughs. And the production design is continuously full of intergalactic surprises.

Set sometime in the future, humanity has established the first permanent base on Mars. But lead engineer Alison (Emily Masurkevitch) was unknowingly pregnant when they left Earth, and so her daughter Heather (a star-making turn from Avaleigh Keller) is the first and only citizen of Mars born on the planet.

What mainly follows is Heather’s self-declared mission to learn more about the home she’s never been to. It’s hard to describe more without ruining the show’s best surprises, but Heather’s fellow astronauts have their own antics afoot.

Much of the show is done in an absurd, slapstick comedy much like Mel Brooks hit The Producers with a pinch of neighbourly shenanigans like Avenue Q. Those shows both were pioneers themselves in comedy and music theatre. Both too were about a hero wanting to find a bigger purpose in a community on the precipice of change.

It’s a really well-written show

This is great commercial comedy and spectacularly crafted. Writers Daniel Abrahamson (a Sheridan grad himself) and Second City alum Ashley Botting have made a show with music, book and lyrics that are all equally witty.

But the text itself also carries dramatic heft and the songs really do rock the house. The best numbers, like “I’m Gonna Go” and “Teenage Martian”, have the cohesion and power to be households tunes. I can’t wait to hear what the future expanded orchestrations will sound like. (Sheridan’s production has only a piano, but the vocal arrangements help create a fully developed sound.)

The Stars of Mars also creates twelve new, dynamic characters that creates great opportunities for the soon-to-be graduating students. Bonus points too for having three women in the top billing, and even more points for giving so many characters moments to take centre stage.

The cast has a strong commitment, but the small downside is each actor has a few moments that are too hokey. For a premise this silly, it has to be played seriously. The scenes without music would be funnier if it didn’t feel like the actors knew they were telling jokes.

Masurkevitch’s Alison Keenan Smits as McCoy are the only ones who’ve mastered this balance throughout the show. These two engineering colleagues with a crush understand the size of a musical like this and the naturalism of the characters they play. Their duet “Gravity” is a great example of this balance at play.

If we need to believe the ensemble are scientists, we need the rest of the astronauts to be more grounded. But aside from a few stylized pauses, their comedic timing is brilliant, and the second act is more well-rounded.

The Stars of Mars is packed with great songs from a great cast

By the end of the night, the cast will have won you over with their superhuman vocal power and their infectious joy. It’s most evident in “Let’s Put on a Show”, a tribute to musicals not unlike “A Musical” from Something Rotten!

The real showstopper is the side-splitting hilarity of the act two opener “What’re You Gonna Do?”, but “Aliens!” would be a more appropriate name. It’s theatre’s best fun-house ride since The Book of Mormon’s “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” It’s where the designers really get a chance to show off.

But the whole production design is top-notch, including some of the best costumes and properties in Theatre Sheridan history. Ryan Young’s lighting is serviceable, but Denise Lisson’s set, Steve Mazza’s props and Katrina Carrier’s costumes are wild.

It really does look like a full-blown space station. What intrigued me was how, even by using less, The Stars of Mars has higher production value than November’s Nine.

Producer Michael Rubinoff has always had a knack for fantasizing what kooky ideas might work as a musical. But while there were similar hesitations about, say, a 9/11 musical set in Newfoundland, that one turned out alright.

But this is the best new musical from Sheridan’s Canadian Music Theatre Project since 2017’s Senze Luce. This show has high hopes and it’s developed enough for the big time. It’s the can’t miss experience of the Theatre Sheridan season.

This musical is ready to be launched into the world

Here’s a story with something to say about what it means to be a citizen, and what responsibility we have for our future. Like young Heather learns, “All that humanity needs is right here.”

I could write another full review on the mastery of the songs and music alone. When the show ended, the entire audience had giant smiles and were singing “Remember Earth” over and over. I wanted to stay in my seat and have the company start the show again from the top.

To sum it up? The Stars of Mars is out of this world. It’s a miraculous work that’s headed for far reaches of theatrical greatness we can only imagine.

The Stars of Mars

4 out of 4 Stars

  • Music and Lyrics by Daniel Abrahamson
  • Book and Lyrics by Ashley Botting
  • Appropriate for Ages 10 and Up
  • Duration: 2hrs 5mins.
  • Category: Sci-Fi Musical Comedy Epic
  • Directed by Steven Gallagher

Starring Avaleigh Keller, Emily Masurkevitch, Germaine Konji, Keenan Smits and Luke Wiggins.

Also starring Callum Challis, Izaha Cochran, Dakota Duguid, Zoe Fiddes, Dylan Hausdorf, Taran Kim, Maria Krotiris, Krizia Natale, Olivia Shad, Nicole Sherwin, Ben Skipper, Ryley Tennant and Alex Wierzbicki.

Playing Trafalgar’s Studio Theatre, 1430 Trafalgar Road, Oakville, ON.

Runs February 14th to 23rd, 2020. Tickets for all upcoming productions range from $15-30, available online by clicking here, or by calling 905-815-4049.

Additional entertainment articles by Tyler Collins are posted on OakvilleNews.Org. Follow Tyler on Twitter @MrTyCollins.

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