Imagine a vast dark stage, empty except for actor Darren Criss, wearing a circular pair of glasses and staring solemnly into the audience. As it cuts to a close-up of our leading man, he begins to sing passionately...about going back to Hogwarts. The audience, Criss’ college classmates at the University of Michigan, burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. This is how the 2009 sensation “A Very Potter Musical” begins.
“StarKid” is a name that usually rings a bell in the ears of passionate theater nerds. It’s a musical theater production group, best known for “A Very Potter Musical,” that has been churning out shows for the past ten years. Their musicals usually consist of over-the-line hilarity and irreverence, a remarkable cast to fall in love with and an entrancing storyline. While not as fancy as Broadway, StarKid is nothing to turn your nose up at—they know how to put on a good show every time they hit the stage. Described as the “future of musical theater” by The Chicago Tribune, “a viral sensation” by Vanity Fair, and “brilliant” by Entertainment Weekly, StarKid actually radiates more and more charm with every new project.
The best part about StarKid? They generously upload professionally-filmed performances of their shows to their YouTube channel only a few months after the show closes. Unlike Broadway fans, who have to rely on a pixelated bootleg to get a glimpse at their favorite musical being performed on the stage only to have YouTube delete it three days later, StarKid fans have all their productions right at their fingertips, making it easy to binge. So what are you waiting for? Here are a few must-see StarKid musicals in no particular order.
A Very Potter Musical
Lead actors: Darren Criss, Joey Richter, Lauren Lopez
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Granger Danger”
Best Line: “I'm the boy who lived. Not died. God.”
It would be criminal not to begin with the musical started it all. StarKid was founded in 2009 by Criss, Brian Holden, Matt Lang and Nick Lang at the University of Michigan. They were a group of theater students, yes, but they were also all massive Harry Potter nerds. So, they blended their two passions and created this Harry Potter satire musical. AVPM is a re-imagining of the Harry Potter franchise, satirical and self-aware. In the StarKid version of the popular story, Lord Voldemort, with his soul attached to Professor Quirrell, tries to get revenge on Potter by killing him in the Triwizard Tournament. Criss, now a celebrated actor, singer, and Golden Globe winner, plays The Boy Who Lived, and masters Harry’s charming and occasionally obnoxious and egotistical personality. The show contains several running gags, such as Draco Malfoy’s obsession with the competing wizarding school, PigFarts, a romance between Quirrell and Voldemort, and no one caring about Hufflepuff. This is the definitive first StarKid musical to watch; it is the most recognizable and arguably the most iconic.
The Trail to Oregon!
Lead Actors: Jeff Blim, Rachael Soglin, Joey Richter, Lauren Lopez, Jaime Lyn Beatty, Corey Dorris
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Your Wagon Is On Fire”
Best Line: “I’ve literally eaten everything that I’ve come across.”
You’ve got dysentery! This spoof of 1970s computer game “The Oregon Trail” is interactive, meaning audience participation is essential. The audience is given the fun responsibility of naming each character in this cast, just like one would if they were playing the computer game. This means that no two shows are the same. This musical follows a father, his uptight wife and their two kids as they venture on from Missouri to Oregon in the 1840s on a busted wagon pulled by a mutant ox. Of course, everything that could possibly go wrong on the trail does, and chaos ensues. At the end of the show, the audience gets to vote on which of the five alternate endings come to pass. All five endings have been filmed and an online viewer can click on the ending they prefer. With the ridiculous humor, audience participation and amazing soundtrack, “Trail to Oregon” is an especially fun musical that is definitely worth a watch for a giggle.
The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals
Lead actors: Jon Matteson, Robert Manion, Lauren Lopez, Jaime Lynn Beatty
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Show Stopping Number”
Best Line: “SING THE BEGINNING OF ‘MOANA’!”
For all the horror fans out there, StarKid has got your back. With a perfect balance of horror and hilarity, this B-movie sci-fi parody makes for the perfect Halloween popcorn musical. This apocalypse parody starts off as a dry-humored comedy about an average grumpy guy at his day job, but it quickly turns ominous when the characters figure out that the small town of Hatchetfield is slowly transforming into a musical. I know it doesn’t sound scary—in fact, it starts out funny—but “The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals” quickly pulls the carpet from underneath you and becomes gut-wrenchingly horrifying. As ridiculous as the plot of “the world is turning into a musical, DUN DUN DUN” sounds, StarKid masterfully balances the horror and seriousness with comedy and parody. I like to refer to it “Invasion of the Body Snatchers...With Singing!”
Lead actors: Dylan Saunders, Rachael Soglin, Jeff Blim, Meredith Stepien
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Follow The Golden Rule”
Best Line: “I’m not just some silly side character here only to illustrate Princess Jasmine’s reluctance to get married!”
Edgy Disney villain apologists everywhere would be drawn into the stance “Twisted” takes. “Twisted” follows the story of Aladdin in an entirely warped way you have never seen it before. In this version, Jafar is the misunderstood benevolent hero, whose story has simply been twisted. He is tortured by Aladdin, a womanizing scum of the earth, who the bratty and spoiled Jasmine is desperately in love with. The musical is a clear nod to “Wicked,” but it’s a lot more exaggerated and insane. Viewers get to explore what Jafar’s past may have been like, and witness events that the Disney movie does not include. “Twisted” is enough to make viewers angry on Jafar’s behalf. While an obvious mockery of Disney, the musical still finds a way to capture Disney magic through its songs and lovable cheesiness.
If none of these pique your interest, StarKid has nine other filmed original musicals I have not even mentioned yet, of varying topics and genres. After burning through what I felt like was hundreds of Broadway musicals, diving into StarKid saved me from my musical drought. It gave me eleven new musicals to obsess over and eleven new soundtracks to listen to. StarKid offers a Broadway feel minus the pretension. It is aware of its silliness and never takes itself too seriously. For those who are looking for a fun afternoon and want to turn off their brains and enjoy some light-hearted humor, StarKid is the perfect place to turn. Their YouTube channel is “Team StarKid”—go there, and the rest is at your fingertips.