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Rock music enlivens campy 'Captain Starhollow'

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2001

Just as we are sliding through the theatrical doldrums of the waning days of August, 'The Ballad of Captain Starhollow and the Rings of Freedom' injects a twinkle of giddy, campy energy into the local performance scene.

Dean Novotny's book and Jonathan Couch's music enliven City Theatre's Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre with an original, full-length rock musical that deals with gay politics, sexual identity and political repression in a comedic sci-fi setting.

It's set in the far distant future in a land ruled by the Empress Opressa and her evil clones. Anti-hero Captain Starhollow, an interstellar vendor of exotic and illegal cosmetics, is called upon to break the hold of the evil empress by uniting the rings of freedom. Helping him on his reluctant mission to free the galaxy are his sales assistant Nare and a former rival seller turned ally, Drangaa Ovarra.

The musical is an outgrowth of a 15- to 20-minute cabaret performance Novotny, who plays Captain Starhollow, created for a gay pride celebration.

Now expanded to two hours with intermission, it's often unfocused, messy and meandering in its action. But its strengths are its solid and dynamic rock music score and an abundance of irreverent humor.

It's filled with sexual references, humor and innuendo that might offend some. One scene features simulated heterosexual intercourse, but there's no nudity, and it's in no way erotic. Instead, it's a comic high point of the evening and possibly the most crucial, least gratuitous example of onstage sex you're ever likely to witness.

Novotny appears comfortably ensconced in his Captain Starhollow persona. But for sheer, over-the-top, wonderfully electrifying bravado, they could all take a lesson from Carla Delaney's Empress Opressa. An Ivana Trump of a villainess, she catapults the play to a proper level of 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' camp and humor with her appearance.

Others are earnest but bland. But as Drangaa and Nare, a pair of unlikely lovers, Lita Wingertsahn and Joshua Futrell come to life with startling vitality whenever the music kicks in.

Composer Couch, who played with Honeyburst, also serves as the show's music director and drummer. To back up the performers, he has recruited bass guitarist Greg Brancati from the reggae group the B-3s, and keyboardist Jeff Cubeta of The New Pussycats. Bobby LaMonde, formerly with the band Science Fiction Idols, plays guitarist Rocket Jets Johnny and contributed the song 'Star Fire.' Often blotting out Novotny's lyrics, they fill and overfill the minuscule Hamburg with their well-coordinated sound.

'The Ballad of Captain Star Hollow and the Rings of Freedom' runs through Saturday at the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre at City Theatre, South Side. Performances: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and midnight Saturday. Tickets: $12; $10 for students and senior citizens.

Details: (412) 431-2489.

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