If Star Wars ice cream and Star Wars in Machete Order isn’t enough to break your Star Wars fever, you’ve got our sympathy. We can’t wait for The Force Awakens either. That being said, we’ve come across an event so crazy it just might make you forget how close we are to a new Star Wars movie: next week, a theater group in Williamsburg will be turning Episode One: The Phantom Menace into a musical, using the songs from Annie.
Star Wars Phantom Menace Episode, 1: Featuring Annie will take place on Monday, December 7 at 10pm at The Annoyance Theater (322 Union Avenue) in Williamsburg, will cost you just five dollars to attend, and features some bright comic and musical stars. For instance, you’ve got Jo Firestone as Yoda, Bowen Yang as Qui-Gon Jinn, Aaron Jackson as Jar Jar Binks, and Spring Awakening‘s Zach Reiner-Harris as the hated Anakin Skywalker. Taking this past a mere stage reading of Episode 1, the cast will be occasionally breaking into songs from the hit musical Annie, which director Henry Koperski points out debuted on Broadway in 1977, the same year as the very first Star Wars movie came out.
Koperski is already versed in the world of musical theater, having hosted an open mic at the West Village club Duplex and put on other musical comedy shows with collaborators Stephanie Dawn and John Rob Van. He’s also How and why exactly are the midi-chlorians coming out tomorrow? We talked to Koperski for some insights on how the sci-fi/Depression musical hybrid came to be and what you can expect from it:
Why Annie? Is it just because it came out the same year as the first Star Wars?
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been a huge fan of the songs from Annie. Even now, I still think they are incredibly beautiful and sweet. When this show idea started forming, Annie came first- I wanted to find a reason for my talented and funny ADULT friends to sing songs like “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, LIVE in front of an audience. The fact that it came out in the same year as A New Hope is just a big ol’ coincidence!
Also, why Episode 1, of all the Star Wars movies to turn into a musical?
As a 26-year-old, I now recognize that Episode 1 is a terrible movie, and probably the worst of the Star Wars films– but back in 1999, when I was 12 years old… I thought Phantom Menace was the coolest movie ever made. I was obsessed with everything- Darth Maul, The Jedi Council, midi-chlorians, JAR JAR BINKS… My brothers and I would watch it over and over and over again. I know I’m not alone in this– so I chose it because it I think it will be very nostalgic for a lot of people, and also an absolute blast to ridicule.
How are you planning on weaving the songs into the show?
There are a lot of parallels between both stories, so it’s been surprisingly easy finding ways to incorporate the Annie songs into Phantom Menace. We’ve just been matching up the characters that make sense, and assigning the songs accordingly. For instance, Qui-gon Jinn will sing “I Don’t Need Anything But You” when he officially decides to take Anakin as his padawan (you know, like when Daddy Warbucks officially decides to adopt Annie).
Was there any thought to just writing your own, original book of Phantom Menace songs?
Not really. I want this to be a quick-and-easy production that we all just have a lot of fun with. Writing original music and making people learn it would add a lot of extra hours to everyone’s involvement. Wanna keep it loose!
Do you have any personal feelings about Episode 1? Do you hate it the way other Star Wars fans do (assuming you’re a Star Wars fan)? Or do you think it’s gotten a bad rap over the years?
It’s an awful movie, but was such a big part of my childhood, that I’ll always love it. Though I did rewatch it a couple nights ago, and was shocked at the weird, racist shit in it… particularly the Nemodians’ cringe-worthy accents. It’s wild.
Who in the cast are you most looking forward to hearing sing?
We’ve all heard the song “Maybe” adorably sung by a little girl… well can you imagine hearing it sung by a good-looking guy with a sexy bari-tenor voice? My friend Zach Reiner-Harris (who was in the cast of Spring Awakening, the first time it was on Broadway) will be playing Anakin, and let me tell you, the audience is in for a TREAT.
Anyone you’re not really looking forward to hearing sing in front of an audience?
My friend John Rob Van will be playing the Toydarian slave owner, “Watto.” If you can remember, Watto’s voice is worse than the sound of a broken garbage disposal and John has committed to singing like this for all of his songs.
Are you at all worried that you don’t have the CGI/technical ability to pull off a true Star Wars experience? Or are there some surprises in store for us on that end?
In the spirit of improv and the Annoyance, we are leaving a lot of the set and special effects to the audience’s imagination… but we do have a few theatrical surprises in store.