Oh god, it’s stuck in my head again.
A mainstay of the internet — floating in the grey area between ironic and sincere — “All Star,” the 1999 Billboard-topper and ninth song on the Shrek soundtrack, now finds itself at the center of an unlikely project: a song-and-dance musical. And in true “All Star” meme fashion, with variations populating the track list from start to finish, it’s the only track used in the entire runtime of the show.
This month, All Star: The Best Broadway Musical, a four-act play written by and starring Allison Frasca, had its first public reading at the Davenport Theatre in New York City. Every duet, solo and chorus number in the musical, a big story of small-town dreams, is a new arrangement of Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” With each reimagining, musical director Paul Rigano adds surprising new subtext and riffs on a different style of Broadway hit, from the sounds of Oklahoma! to Wicked (and I’m pretty sure I heard a Hamilton joke in there, too). It’s essentially a Jukebox Musical, but the jukebox is broken.
If you’re wondering just how much mileage you can get out of what sounds like a Funny or Die premise, the answer is, surprisingly, “an entire musical’s worth.” If you’re hesitant to get on board, don’t worry, Smash Mouth themselves needed some convincing. But once Frasca had assembled her delightful presentation, they decided to join the party — All Star: The Best Broadway Musical is officially sanctioned by the band.
The show centers on one Sadie (Frasca herself), a scrappy, coverall-clad gas station clerk with a beautiful voice, who dreams of leaving her small southern town of Nash South (yep) in order to audition for American All Star, an American Idol analogue that draws ratings from humiliation.
Sadie is caught in a love triangle (then rectangle, then hexagon) between fellow gas station employee Eddy (Andrew Block), the sweet-but-jealous type, and local storm chaser/pseudo-celebrity Arnold St. James (Tom Althoff), the proverbial “Meteor Man” from the song, who “beg(s) to differ” with the folks trying to keep Sadie down.
Pretty much every line of “All Star” is mined for story, so you may as well familiarize yourself with the lyrics. The “finger and her thumb in the shape of an L on her forehead,” for instance, starts out as a literal “loser” taunt thrown at Sadie. It re-appears in the form of haunting lament, as an older, world-weary character mimes the story of a woman who once had dreams like Sadie did, but eventually put a gun to her forehead. This is played entirely straight and as a moment of genuine character-building, which only makes it more hilarious.
Even while translating the melodious sounds of Steve Harwell, Frasca shone both as doe-eyed lead and as proud mamma over the proceedings, mouthing along the words she wrote for energetic characters like Alexandra (Julia Macchio), Sadie’s rival in love and local fame; Carlotta (Katelyn Bowman), Sadie’s spry best friend with a penchant for decorating; Odysseus Danger (Brad Mercier), a bizarre bad-boy biker/drifter who speaks in broken platitudes; and Cornelius Cornwall (Dominic F. Russo), the town’s screeching, Corn-themed mascot, who seems overly invested in the proceedings.
While the show’s first half has the beginnings of a straightforward rags-to-riches story, its second takes a number of turns into both serious and surreal territory — all while remixing “All Star” over and over and over again. Arnold St. James tries to inspire Sadie to follow her dreams? “You’ll never shine if you don’t glow.” Odysseus Danger tempts our heroine in to running away? “So what’s wrong with taking the backstreets?” A somber funeral ballad? “They say it gets colder. You’re bundled up now, wait ‘til you get older.” Residents of Nash South simply greeting one another? “Hey now!”
You get the idea.
All Star: The Best Broadway Musical sounds like the dumbest idea on planet, but I’ll be damned if every single member of its cast wasn’t committed to the gimmick. Then again, maybe “gimmick” is a misnomer when they’re all playing broad and familiar archetypes with the utmost sincerity. It isn’t unheard of in theatre training to be given lines of dialogue with no action or context so you can imbue them with your own subtext in order to create drama. Is doing the same with something as ready for transposition as “My world’s on fire, how ‘bout yours?” such a silly idea when the world around us really does feel that way? I walked into the live-read just as President Trump was sitting down to have a serious policy discussion with Kanye West, so everything’s upside down to begin with.
Per the reading and its ambitious stage directions, a fully realized production of All Star: The Best Broadway Musical would involve dream sequences, TV screens and interpretive dance ghosts, so I hope to heck people give it a shot and investors get on board. It seems like a blast of unfiltered joy, something in short supply these days. Yep, what a concept.
Siddhant is an actor, independent filmmaker, television writer and freelance film critic. He lives in Mumbai, New York and online.