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Starwalker: Less than starry

by | Feb 18, 2023 | Review | 0 comments

Publicity photo for Starwalker

Dillon Meighan Chiblow and Jeffrey Michael Follis in Starwalker
(Photo by David Cooper)

Corey Payette’s new musical Starwalker is going to be meaningful to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. And there’s significant talent on the stage. I don’t mean to deny any of that when I say that, from a craft perspective, especially the craft of storytelling, it fails big time.

As well as directing Starwalker, Payette wrote the book, music, and lyrics. In his book, a drag performer named Levi picks up Star, an Indigenous sex worker, on Lee’s Trail in Stanley Park. And that sets up a story that is predictable on virtually every level. Within seconds of their meeting, we know Levi and Star are destined for lasting romance. Star has never done drag, but they’re interested, so we we’ve got a pretty good idea what the Act 1 finale is going to look like. And when Mother Borealis, who heads Levi’s drag family, the House of Borealis, coughed in the first act, I felt like calling a hearse just to have one on standby for the end of Act 2.

Because there are no significant obstacles in Act 1, nobody has to learn anything and Starwalker has zero thematic depth. “You want to live here in the House of Borealis rent free while we supply you with drag and make-up tutorials? No problem!” “You’re Indigenous? How interesting! Let’s talk about that because, the girls here in the House of Borealis are nothing if not curious and empathetic.”

Payette’s songs come in three flavours: thumping, club-based tunes; indistinguishable ballads that force the singers to belt at the top of their ranges while negotiating a lot of melisma; and songs that are more based in Indigenous vocal traditions. Of the three, I found the Indigenous material the most arresting — and affecting — because it’s the most original, especially in the show’s queer context.

And I must say that Dillan Meighan Chiblow, who’s playing Star, shows off impressive vocal control over a huge range. Jeffrey Michael Follis (Levi) is also a truly accomplished singer, as is Ryan Maschke (Sissy, Levi’s competition in the House of Borealis). Stewart Adam McKensy (Mother Borealis) is a pro — he played the lead in the Arts Club’s recent production of Kinky Boots — so his vocal chops come as no surprise. I have never seen a show that features so many drag performers who can sing.

Chiblow (Star) is not a polished actor, but Follis (Levi) is so charismatic and possessed of such good timing that he’s the real discovery in this production.

Dramatically, Act 2 is better than Act 1 because, at long last, Payette provides the central characters with a substantial obstacle. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will say that, although it resolves too easily, it does provide much-needed narrative tension.

To really pull off the designs for a show like this, you’d need a whopping budget, which it seems this Urban Ink/Raven Theatre co-production did not have. Alaia Hamer’s costumes and Anna Shearing’s set are underwhelming.

I appreciate that Payette and company are exploring the intersection between drag and indigeneity. I wish they’d done it with more wit, depth, and style.

STARWALKER Book, music, lyrics, and direction by Corey Payette. An Urban Ink and Raven Theatre co-production in association with The Musical Stage Company. On Friday, February 17. Running at The Cultch’s York Theatre until March 5. Tickets and information

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