By Stanford Friedman
If you didn’t get the tone from the title’s four exclamation points, or from the sheer audacity of opening a Star Trek parody on Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you), Khan!!! The Musical! crazily, but cleverly, goes where no multi-racial, multi-talented, multi-species cast has gone before. With a decades-old franchise film as his guiding star, writer/composer Brent Black, and his Number One, Alina Morgan, assign this crew of enterprising recruits a tricky task. Their two and a quarter hour mission: entertain an audience composed of musical theater fans who are also Trekkers. Employing stealth tap dancing, fine voices, and with phasers set firmly to silly, the mission succeeds.
Under the eager direction of John Lampe, the fast-paced production is essentially a re-telling of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (The film is available on HBO Max. It’s advisable, though not mandatory, to familiarize yourself with the flick for full parody satisfaction.) But Black smartly frames the work as a show within a show, or rather, a show within a holodeck. Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Lt. Commander Data (Julian Manjerico) is on board to serve as narrator, explaining that the play is his creation after having “forced myself to watch 1,000 hours of 20th century Earth musicals.” Thus Data is handily available to explain scene transitions that would otherwise be head-scratching. He also gets to employ dry line readings, as when he instructs the cast to “activate razzmatazz protocols.”
At the center of the story is one Captain James T. Kirk (Shyaporn Theerakulstit). His swashbuckling days mostly behind him, the good captain is entrenched in a midlife crisis that propels several strong numbers which find him pining for his youth, and pondering, “Have I still got the magic today? Or has it simply rusted away?” Theerakulstit nails the William Shatner-ness of the role, capturing Shatner’s voice and only being overly mocking when the situation demands. His pleasing way with a song also goes a long way toward making him a sympathetic commander despite his penchant for rash decisions.
Kirk’s nemesis, the genetically engineered superhuman known as Khan (Zachary Kropp), seeks revenge for that time back in the original series when Kirk left him and his cronies abandoned on a distant planet. The creative team gambles with Khan by ignoring that Ricardo Montalbán portrayed him in the movie. No, there will be no mention of rich Corinthian leather. Kropp’s Khan is more of a fanciful Brit. Captain Hook, as performed by Cyril Ritchard, came to mind and indeed Khan’s obsession with doing in a Kirk who wants to be a boy forever smacks of Peter Pan. Kropp also gets to let loose his inner Rocky Horror when he croons, in his best Dr. Frank-N-Furter voice, not of being a sweet transvestite, but rather, seeking “sweet true vengeance.”
In addition to his Data duties, Manjerico wows in a series of supporting characters, showing off an impressive range. One moment he’s Khan’s wistfully dumb underling, the next he’s undeniably Kirk’s illegitimate son. Spock is around of course, embodied by Maxwell Nusbaum who keeps the requisite straight face throughout, even while tap dancing up a storm. In a stroke of pure ridiculousness, Kirk and Spock constantly refer to each other using pet names, Jim-jam and Frosty-buns.
Laura Whittenberger plays Saavik, the role that “launched” Kirstie Alley’s career. This Saavik is not only half Vulcan, she is also “half Ingenue” and Whittenberger brings vivacity to a role that is otherwise just as unspecific as it was in the film. “I have often wondered what the point of my character is,” she deadpans. Crystal Marie Stewart, as both Uhura and Kirk’s ex-lover Carol, sings beautifully and we are left wanting much more. Ditto Clayton Matthews, as both Sulu and Chekov, who shows off swell comic timing and a rich tenor.
Star Wars fans be advised, even you will be entertained. In the words of a Trek villain worse than Khan, resistance is futile.
KHAN!!! THE MUSICAL! – Co-written, composed, and lyrics by Brent Black, co-conceived and additional materials by Alina Morgan, directed by John Lampe.
WITH: Zachary Kropp (Khan), Julian Manjerico (Data), Clayton Matthews (Sulu/Chekov), Lindsey M.E. Newton (Bones/Scotty), Maxwell Nusbaum (Spock), Crystal Marie Stewart (Uhura/Carol Marcus), Shyaporn Theerakulstit (Kirk) and Laura Whittenberger (Saavik).
Musical direction by Nicholas Kaminski, choreography by Angel Reed, scenic design by Ivey Jenkins-Long, lighting design by Melissa Shawcross, costume design by Jolene Richardson. Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St., www.khaniscoming.com Through Sunday, June 4. Running Time: 2:15