The Mighty Starmites
A musical that doesn’t get brought up or produced nearly as much as it ought to is the campy and sublime, comic book-inspired Starmites. With music and lyrics by Barry Keating and a book by Stuart Ross and Keating, the piece follows Eleanor, an introverted teenager with a love for comic books, who imagines herself as the heroine sent to save the universe as part of an intergalactic band of guardian angels known as the “Starmites”.
An early version of Starmites was first presented Off-Off Broadway at the Ark Theatre Company, but the piece didn’t really get much notice until it was presented in 1987 at Off-Broadway’s CSC Theatre, where it was well-received. In 1989, during a lackluster Broadway season, Starmites was ushered to Broadway at its tail end and wound up being nominated for six Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.” It didn’t win any, losing mostly to the musical anthology piece Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and to the musical revue Black and Blue.
Starmites was probably a musical best-served by the intimacy and the quirkiness embraced by Off-Broadway audiences. It didn’t last for very long on Broadway, a mere 60 performances in fact, and the Broadway critics were not exactly the show’s champion. It was a small musical, eccentric and off-beat, and it was hardly in-keeping with the pop opera, mammoth productions that were all the rage in the late 1980s. A little gem of a show like Starmites was very likely to get lost amid The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and Starlight Express.
This all doesn’t change the fact that Starmites, in the right space and for the right the audience, is a terrific little musical. Its comic book setting, youthful characters, and its pop-infused score make it a very appealing piece to produce with a teenage cast. I, myself, have seen two productions of Starmites done by high schools and thought it a perfect fit, especially for drama teachers who are looking to do a fun show that hasn’t been “done to death.” Samuel French, who licenses the show, must agree, because they have established three different versions of the show for lease, two of which cater to youth.
Barry Keating’s score is so full of joyous exuberance, with just a dash of punk to make it stand out against the rock and pop operas of the day. It is not afraid to flex its off-beat muscles either, which makes sense considering the musical is about the world of comic books where camp reigns supreme. The doo-wop spoofed title song is snappy fun, and an efficient way to introduce several characters at one time. The favorite number in the lively score is “(Hard to Be) Diva”, sung by Diva, the Queen of the Banshees, an over-the-top, power hungry villain of near drag queen proportions who manipulates and intimidates (Her name is “Diva” after all).
Starmites deserves better than it has gotten over the years, and maybe, just maybe, the time has come to take a second look at this bizarre little musical that is overflowing with colorful characters and zippy melodies. As producers clamor to come up with the next “live” musical option for TV, I always wonder “Why not Starmites?” It’s not like they would be reinventing the wheel or creating in the shadow of something else. Starmites would be new to most people and might just be a lot of fun given the intimacy of the small screen.