Star Child

“Saturday’s Warrior” fans and detractors, unite! The sequel, “Star Child,” is really bad.

“Star Child,” like its LDS-themed predecessor, starts out in the pre-existence. The overly enthusiastic Chuck Baker (played by the overly enthusiastic James Royce Edwards) and his non-descript best friend Larry Clayton (Robert Lemon) are about to be born in the same hospital. At the last minute, though, Larry’s plans are changed, and he’s born to a non-LDS family in Russia. Chuck promises he’ll find Larry and teach him the gospel.

Well, unfortunately, Chuck himself winds up either not a member, or an inactive one (we’re not really told). He’s therefore not likely to find Larry, nor does he have much chance of marrying the strait-laced Marie (Kim Butterworth), to whom he was betrothed in the pre-existence. In fact, she wants nothing to do with Chuck, and is quite vexed that he has followed/stalked her to BYU.

Elders Kestler (Brian Neil McFadyen) and Greene (Jeff Stevens), fresh off their missions (portrayed in “Saturday’s Warrior”), show up at BYU to find wives. The shallow Kestler’s main criterion is beauty, and he finds it in Marie, who rebuffs him. Kestler and Chuck meet and discover they both have girl troubles, and Kestler realizes it’s the same girl. So he hatches a plan: He’ll convert Chuck, send him on a mission, and steal Marie. Chuck converts, goes to Russia, finds Larry, comes home. There are marriages, death, lots of singing, yada yada yada.

What made “Saturday’s Warrior” work was that it had some catchy tunes, some memorable songs, and some genuinely sweet moments. It was also a novelty, playing with the idea of the things we’ve forgotten from the pre-existence.

“Star Child” has none of that. The writer/lyricist is the same (Doug Stewart), but Gaye Beeson’s music is forgettable and unimaginative. As for originality, it’s strictly been there, done that, with very few innovations in this sequel.

The plot is lame, contrived, sexist and insulting. Nerd girl Mitzi (Christina Holling) feels worthless because she’s never had a date — but when Greene falls in love with her, she becomes beautiful (and doesn’t have to wear glasses anymore, either, for some reason). The message? You’re not a worthwhile woman unless you’re married and pretty.

It’s not even the LDS ideal that a woman is not complete, eternally speaking, without a husband; that notion would have been fine. But this is just your basic old-fashioned “women aren’t valid until they’re married” thing. Watching the BYU girls throw themselves at the maddeningly self-centered and slap-worthy Kestler is disgusting; seeing him go the entire show without ever really learning his lesson, or getting what he deserves — he does get slapped, but not enough — is even worse.

Which brings us to the characters. Our two main “heroes,” Chuck and Kestler, are two-dimensional and — what’s worse — annoying as hell. Both are played smugly and over-the-top, though in different ways: Edwards’ Chuck is embarrassing, while McFadyen’s Kestler is irritating. They ham it up big-time, getting nary a laugh between them.

Kestler’s insane plot to send Chuck on a mission as a means of stealing his girlfriend is actually a bright spot in the show. It’s so outrageous, so jaw-droppingly misguided, that you get a taste of how fun and wacky the show could have been. But it’s quickly ruined by a song-and-dance missionary discussion that involves Kestler and Greene giving Chuck the hard sell, all the while dancing around disrespectfully with pictures of the Savior.

Stewart clearly wanted to convey a nice religious message with this show. But the script is weak and riddled with problems (we won’t even address the doctrinal errors), the songs are mostly bad, and the whole thing reeks of someone trying to re-hash his initial success without doing anything new. Add to that some unlikable stock characters and some sub-par acting, and you’ve got yourself a mess.

Quite a big ol' stinky piece of poo, this. I'd have to put this among the top two or three worst shows I've ever seen. What I didn't get to in the review -- it was too long already -- was the cheesy dialogue and lyrics, occasionally lousy singing, and some really lame choreography (though the dancers generally performed it pretty well).

One thing I'll give it is that at least most of the actors were committed to their characters. None of them seemed embarrassed to be up there, although they should have been. They all really put their whole energy into creating characters the audience hated. You kind of have to admire that, really.

The reason this show was still better than "Storm Testament" -- the standard by which all bad shows are measured -- was that at least "Star Child" was fun to make fun of. My friend Chris Clark and I had to stifle our laughter many a time as we saw the ridiculous things being presented before us.

All in all, it was quite an experience, and one I shall not soon forget, though I shall certainly try.

It took almost an entire day, but sure enough, the angry letters started coming in. The first one, which I am printing here exactly as it was written (mistakes and all), and which is not the slightest bit self-righteous or sanctimonious, contains several statements that imply some unfair things about me personally. Watch for 'em, we'll discuss 'em later.

Concerning Saturday's Warrior sequel "STAR CHILD" Eric D. Snider cast the first stone. I'd like to pick it up and throw it back at him! We live 'in the world' but we are not supposed to be 'of the world'. Those 'of the world' won't appreciate this play, they may prefer the PG-13 and R movies that are so common in this valley. Those in this valley who are not "Past Feeling" will find this play will make you laugh, cry, want to sing and remind you of what is really important in this life. The message I gained from this play is "no matter what happens to us in this life we should always remember we are His (Heavenly Father) child.

My eight-year-old boy liked the song "I feel tall" [hands down, the single worst song in a show full of bad songs, and one of the worst songs in theater history: "Tall, I feel tall, like a tree reaching up to the sky," etc.] the best and would love to go again. My 10-year-old boy says he liked it and is glad we took him. My 12 and 14 year old daughters have more to say than I could include in this letter, basically Mr. Snider went with a negative attitude and therefore was blinded by a hard heart, we really do see what we are looking for in life.

We loved this play enough to buy the CD and order the Video. We prefer to fill our minds and lives with things that are spiritually uplifting.

Go to "Star Child" at the Valentine Theater across from the Mt Timpanogos Temple at the Developmental Center, but don't wait it only play nightly through this Saturday, the 24th. Call 818-5321 for information.

Jayna Cherry

Here are the things she hinted at about me:

"Those 'of the world' won't appreciate this play...": I'm "of the world" (i.e., worldly, focusing more on temporal matters than spiritual matters), and that's why I didn't like it.
"...they may prefer the PG-13 and R movies that are so common in this valley": Being a worldly person, as established in the previous clause, I probably prefer trashy movies over wholesome, uplifting shows like "Star Child" (or "STAR CHILD," as she called it).
"Those in this valley who are not 'Past Feeling'" will get a lot out of this play: Not only am I worldly, but I'm even "past feeling." This is a scriptural allusion (she needed to include this phrase to make sure we all knew that she reads her scriptures); the reference is from the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 17:45. The righteous prophet Nephi is reprimanding his wicked brothers, who have wavered constantly in the gospel, going from seeing angels one minute to trying to kill Nephi the next. Says Nephi: "Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God.... Ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words." The expression "past feeling" means that the person is so far gone, so turned over to unrighteousness, that spiritual things are foreign to him now. He cannot feel the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit anymore, because he has made himself immune to them with his wickedness. And according to this woman, I, Eric D. Snider, have reached this point. How does she know that? What gives her such keen insight into the soul of a person she's never met? I didn't like a play that she liked, that's what.
"Mr. Snider went with a negative attitude and therefore was blinded by a hard heart": Amazing how when I don't like a show, people come up with all these reasons why that must have been: I don't understand theater, or I went with a bad attitude, or I am immune to spiritual things, or whatever. It never crosses their minds that maybe, just maybe, I just thought the show was bad.
"We prefer to fill our minds and lives with things that are spiritually uplifting": I don't know if she means to imply that I don't like to fill my mind and life with these things. But even if that's not what she was implying, this is still an extraordinarily self-righteous and prideful thing to say.

But we cannot dwell too long on this woman's letter, because we must move on to a letter the Daily Herald printed on April 21, 1999. Note that when the writer uses the word "obviously," the things she is describing are actually far from obvious. This is consistent with every angry letter I've ever received: The things described as "obvious" are always hasty generalizations and jumped-to conclusions. Enjoy.

Eric Snider obviously [obviously!] does not like happy shows where boy finds girl, falls in love and gets married, nor does he seem to like LDS musicals. Fortunately, a lot of people do like happy shows with uplifting gospel messages.

Eric's review of "Star Child," a musical sequel to "Saturday's Warrior," was the most biased review I have ever read. It is one thing to express his opinion about the show [although I suspect she doesn't really want me to do that, either], but to misrepresent the audience and their reaction is not an honest review.

He claimed the leads in the show tried to be funny, but got "nary a laugh." That is just not true. [It was the night I was there. Does she claim to have been there the same night as I?] When I have attended the show the audience is laughing so much that it is sometimes hard to hear all the lines. [The sign of a bad actor: continuing to talk while the audience is laughing, rather than waiting for the laughs.] There is always applause and cheering after each song and scene. There is no way Eric could have misjudged the audience, unless he was asleep. Maybe he fell asleep and dreamed his review. [I wish.]

Eric failed to tell the readers about the very talented cast, picked from hundreds of people who auditioned for the show. All but four of the cast members are BYU students, mostly music, dance and theater majors. Their resumes include BYU Young Ambassadors, BYU Men's Choir, national tours with shows such as "The Garden," "Saturday's Warrior" and "The Ark." Many of them have toured internationally singing and dancing. They have performed at Sundance Summer Theater, Capitol Theater, Jackson Hole Playhouse and the Oakland Temple Pageant. [All of this impressive experience made me all the more surprised to see so many of them sucking. With resumes like that, I expected to least see some decent acting.]

The four young actors who do not attend BYU range in ages 13 to 16, and have very impressive resumes which include Sundance, the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Capitol Theater, "Les Miserables" in concert, "Saturday's Warrior" national tour, international dancing tours, performances in Branson, Mo., and more starring roles in shows than they are years old. [One of these extraordinary young actors, Kathryn Ruzicka, is even the daughter of the woman who wrote this letter! And her mom didn't like my review! Can you believe such an amazing coincidence?!]

All of the performers have beautiful singing voices and many of them can be heard on CDs and tapes sold at LDS bookstores. A video of "Star Child" will be available in LDS bookstores in June.

The producer and directors of "Star Child" are very talented people who have been involved with national and local theater for many years. They are professionals who have brought quality family theater to Utah.

Please do not let Eric Snider's very unprofessional [read: "different from what I thought"] and biased review stop you from seeing "Star Child." Join the hundreds of people who have already enjoyed this show.

Gayle Ruzicka

Gayle Ruzicka mentions the "hundreds of people" who auditioned for the show. She fails to mention the motivating factor for many of them: money. I have heard from at least three cast members who have said the show is terrible, but they console themselves with the fact that they're being paid for it.

I know two of the crew members, both of whom despise the show and couldn't believe the unprofessional way in which it was rehearsed. One of them said she had never seen a complete run-through of the show until it opened.

I mention these facts not to defend my opinion, but to make it clear that I am not the lone voice of dissension here. Many people, inside the show and out, agree with my assessment of "Star Child." I do not doubt that Gayle Ruzicka enjoyed it; she is entitled to that. But she gets onto shaky ground when she impugns my professionalism merely because she disagrees with me.

Contrary to the boldly ignorant opinions which she describes as "obvious," I DO happen to like shows in which boy finds girl and gets married. I like some LDS musicals, too. I also like shows in which boy finds girl and kills her, and I like shows that have nothing to do with the LDS Church. I like shows that are good. The subject matter is irrelevant. If it's a good show, it's a good show. If it's a crappy show, some of the worst, mediocre dreck ever to be forced down the throat of an audience -- for example, "Star Child" -- then I don't like it.

But again, we must not dwell on this letter, because we have another letter to dwell on, published April 23.

I also attended a performance of "Star Child" and I have a different opinion of it than the comments written by Eric Snider. [She has acknowledged that my review contained my opinion, and that, as sometimes happens, her opinion was different. She sounds reasonable so far. But wait.]

I haven't heard Doug Stewart claim that the script is doctrinally correct. [Good thing.] I really enjoyed the talent displayed by the performers and I felt that the audience was really with them. There was lots of laughter -- and tears. I felt especially inspired by some of the songs and have heard them performed in other settings before I was ever aware of "Star Child."

Kestler and Greene played their roles very convincingly and I was especially impressed by the role of Chuck, as well as many others. The evening I attended, the auditorium was full and from the comments and audience respond afterward, it seemed clear to me that they did not share Snider's feelings, either. I didn't come away feeling the negative message that Snider wrote about.

I'm surprised that he couldn't find anything that he enjoyed about the performance. [You and me both, sister.] Maybe he just had a bad day.

Vona Hunsaker

It must have been that I had a bad day, because the show couldn't have been bad. Why, the whole audience seemed to enjoy it -- therefore, it must have been a great show!

I never said the audience didn't like it. (I did say they didn't laugh much the night I was there, and that is true.) I just said I didn't like it, and I said why. I don't care if it wins every $*@(! Tony Award there is, that's not going to make it a good show.

An ironic post-script: In June 2000, this review won the first-place Associated Press award in the "reviews" category for papers our size in our region (Utah, Idaho, and Spokane). I don't know how many of the other papers our size in our region submitted entries, but I got $25 and a nice certificate, anyway.