A pop star gets a makeover that needs to be seen to be believed.
Every now and then you come across a bold show that's not afraid to take chances. This is definitely the case with Anton Dudley and his often campy world-premiere musical Girlstar, playing at Signature Theatre. While the book does seem to go all over the place at times and doesn't always know what it wants to be, this thriller-spoof is entertaining.
Donna Migliaccio, channeling Cruella de Vil, is fantastic as Daniella Espere, an over-the-top musical producer. To stay on top of the music game, Daniella kills talented people and drains their bodies of a magical fluid that she feeds to her niece Tina (Desi Oakley), creating a sort of Franken-performer. In this age of Empire and backseat fighting at record companies, perhaps the character of Daniella is not as far-fetched as she seems.
The story revolves around a big musical event, and Tina is slated to be the star, although Daniella feels she needs that oomph factor and uses her other musical protégées to supply the "talent." Daniella will stop at nothing to make the show magical and that means disposing of anyone who gets in her way. Tina, at first unaware of what's happening, is hypnotized by the fame coming her way.
Migliaccio pops onto the scene singing "One Eye Open," all the while holding her hand over one of her eyes — a ludicrous but funny bit of stage business. You have to suspend reality to appreciate the humor of the scene, and like all good Disneyesque villains, Daniella owns her own spooky lair, has a scary pet snake, and delivers a laugh worthy of the Evil Queen. This role was made for Migliaccio.
As Tina, the Girlstar herself, Oakley shows off her powerful voice in tunes such as "Music Everywhere" and "Brand New," and a tender side in the delightful "Tonight." The character becomes a glorified American Idol winner and ably transforms from the down-to-earth wannabe singer to the megastar commanding a stage.
Oakley pairs well with Sam Edgerly's shy Jeff, a reluctant singer who works as a bellhop but dreams of performing. The two share a sweet duo on "I'll Follow You," setting up a charming love story to root for. Edgerly plays the aw-shucks nice guy to a T.
Unfortunately for Signature fave Bobby Smith, who plays Tina's Uncle Derek, Dudley doesn't give the character much to do. We're supposed to believe that the character, described as an unloving drunk, is protecting his niece from his diabolical sister, Daniella, but we're never quite sure what his backstory is. He is overshadowed in his lone scene with Migliaccio; his unassuming character doesn't seem to play in the same fictional world as the others.
Among the talented girls who provide Tina with her singing and dancing abilities are Diana Huey as Piper and Jamie Eacker as Neela. Both young actresses fit naturally into the pop stardom world. Huey especially has great lines that seem to be ripped from the Twitter feeds of today's pop princesses. That's one area in which Dudley definitely knows his stuff.
Director Eric Schaeffer maneuvers the cast quickly from one scene to the next. Make no mistake, with its short, Millennial-friendly scenes, this musical is designed for a younger audience, one that understands the social-media vernacular and craves 15 minutes of fame.
Girlstar isn't Les Mis, nor does it pretend to be anything along those lines. In the tradition of shows like Cry-Baby or Xanadu, it's a whimsical romp with powerful singing and a bizarre story that won't suit everyone, but for those who sit back and enjoy the ride, it might earn a Simon Cowell seal of approval.