Speeding through Chicago faster than the Millennium Falcon bolted from the Death Star, Canadian writer and performer, Charles Ross, brought his delightful, witty and highly entertaining, One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, to the Broadway Playhouse. With the permission of the Lucasfilm Ltd. team, this one-man reenactment of the original trio of Star Wars films, from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, had a little something for everyone. I will be honest, having more than a working knowledge of the films; Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi should be a prerequisite, however it is not a deal breaker. Ross, tall and lanky, with tousled, sandy brown hair, is a capable stand-in for the original Luke Skywalker. This passion project, something he said he had worked on, off and on, for over 15 years, toured all over Canada and America. It is now the Windy City’s turn to enjoy the adventures from lawless desert planet Tatooine, the lush forest world of Endor and the frozen tundra of Hoth. Cleverly directed by TJ Dawe, with ingenious lighting design from Mike Schaldemose, this show may have been short on props, the entire piece is just Ross acting out the parts of spaceships, heroes & villains, but long on admiration for all things Lucas.
Requiring equal levels of imagination from the captivated audience, Ross’s love letter to the imaginative galaxy crafted in the brain of science fiction wunderkind, George Lucas, the epic, interplanetary space battle may have been crafted far, far away, but it was knocking them dead on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Clad in a black one piece suit, Ross nailed the imposing deep breathing of Darth Vadar, the roar of everyone’s favorite Wookie, Chewbacca, the familiar beeps and whistles of R2-D2, and the imperiousness of C-3P0. He didn’t stop there, grabbing his crotch to display the hyper-masculinity of bad boy Han Solo and then placing his fist by his ears to symbolize the hair buns of Princess Leia. When it came to playing burgeoning hero Luke Skywalker, Ross loving spoofed the whiny future Jedi’s most infamous line, “But I was going to go into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” Lando Calrissian, Jedi master Yoda and sage advisor, Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, made appearances throughout as well.
If you do not know the difference between the Rebel Alliance and the mighty Empire, this show may have you a little misplaced, but Ross’s frenetic, infectious energy will leave you highly entertained regardless. Mimicking the AT-ST Walker, the TIE Fighter and the exploding Death Star are best to be experienced live. Same for his impressions of ultimate space baddies Jabba the Hutt and the emperor, Darth Sidious. His Admiral Ackbar “It’s a Trap!” was a comedic gift that kept on giving throughout the show.
Blending actual lines from the troika of films including “Aren’t you a little short to be a Storm Trooper?” “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” and “When 900 years old, you reach…Look as good, you will not” with current pop culture references. “Do you remember your mother, Leia?” Luke asked. “You mean Natalie Portman…..Black Swan….” just reduced the audience of fan boys and girls to a serious case of sidesplitting giggles.
One-Man Star Wars Trilogy proved a delightful gimmick, marketed to a widely rabid fan base, a generation weaned on the sci-fi magic of all things The Force. Ross shared with the audience at the conclusion of his performance, he was “27 when I started” and has since played nationwide, culminating in his biggest and most nerve-racking show, a triumphant command performance in front of the Lucas crew and 3000 Star Wars fans at Comic-Con. From the lightsaber battles to the blasts of the Ion Cannons, Ross’s frenzied vitality and impressive eye for detail made One-Man a winner. Whittling almost 12 hours of film into a 75 minute, one-person, one-act show is no daunting task, let alone doing it with these modern day cinematic classics, however Ross successfully blended his unique brand of physical comedy and quick wit, crafting a shared experience that left this viewer smiling and laughing often, and what is higher praise than that? To pirate a well know line from the Star Wars universe, May The “Farce” Be With You.
One-Man Star Wars Trilogy plays for a limited one-week engagement at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place through April 24, 2016
Broadway in Chicago presents ONE-MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY.
Charles Ross has condensed our beloved original Star Wars Trilogy (“Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Return of the Jedi”) into a tight seventy-five minute live performance. He starts each movie by mimicking the iconic soundtrack and talking about the words scrolling vertically on screen. He then starts the impressive retelling.
Ross plays all the roles; human, robotic and other, with distinct voices and sounds. We always know who is who and what is what. He speaks with a British accent for CP30 and then responds with R2D2 signature beeps and whistles. He introduces the canteen scene with the familiar peppy tune. He breaths heavy for Darth Vader, speaks gutteral for Jabba the Hut and hunches over a pretend cane for his squeaky Yoda-speak. Even when I don’t know the name of the character he is playing, I know exactly what character he is. He does a fist eye movement for the one general and flapping hands at his jawline for the sidekick guy. It’s hilariously accurate. For battles scenes, he runs, jumps, glides all while making a variety of starship noises. At times, Ross looks like a kid imaginatively playing “Star Wars.” Yet, the level of detail ensures we know this is a slick professional production. This Lucasfilms-approved-show is a perfectly condensed version of the films.
And Charles Ross has heart and humor. He effortlessly slips from scoundrel to princess in the intimate conversations between Han and Leia. Sarcastic inflections, sexual tension and kissing is all there with only Ross present. In his clever depiction, Ross even inserts inside jokes. He pokes fun of Luke’s whining, Natalie Portman, and the guy who calls Leia ‘Lea.’ When he removes Darth’s helmet, his one liner is hysterical. In between movies, Ross interacts with the audience as he chugs water. His performance is very physical and quick-paced but instead of taking a break offstage, he takes it onstage. He jokes with the audience. Ross is very personable and engaging. At the end of the show, he just plops down on the stage and shares the story of how he became Lucasfilm approved. It feels less like we are in a theatre and more like we are at Charlie’s house listening him regale us with tales from a galaxy far, far away.
Charles Ross is the ultimate Star Wars fan. Chicago gets to experience his innovative storytelling for a limited time. Grab your light saber and board the Millennium Falcon before the Death Star explodes.
Running Time: Ninety minutes includes a post-show chat with no intermission
At Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
Written and performed by Charles Ross
Directed by TJ Dawe
Thursday, April 21 at 7:30 PM
Friday, April 22 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, April 23 at 2 PM and 7:30 PM
Sunday, April 24 at 2 PM and 7:30 PM
Buy Tickets at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.
Written and Performed by Charles Ross
Directed by TJ Dawe
Produced by Broadway in Chicago
“Well, from my point of view, The Friends of the Parks are evil!”—Darth Vader
With the release of The Force Awakens on DVD and the revelation of a new plan to build the Lucas Museum over a section of McCormick Place (assuming the Illinois General Assembly acts with alacrity and puts faith in Rahm), interest in the Star Wars has been revived to its highest peak in over ten years. So now is a good time for Charles Ross’s one-man adaptation of the original trilogy to return to Chicago, where it can be seen for the next few days at the Broadway Playhouse. Filled with onomatopoeia, hummed renditions of John Williams’s music, and direct quotations, but lacking any props or scenery, this highly energetic romp is great fun for die-hard fans, and amusing for casual Star Wars consumers.
As soon as Charles Ross emerges onstage, he jumps into his manic recreation of A New Hope, beginning with an imperial officer announcing, “Lord Vader, exposition, exposition, exposition.” There’s nothing lazy about his performance, though, and Ross’s use of his hands to represent Princess Leia’s bagel-hair won over any members of the audience who hadn’t already bought into the show. (I won’t give away all his surprises, but a lot of the show’s humor comes from the childlike way Ross has of using his physicality to describe things). Episode IV proceeds at a break-neck pace, pausing only for Ross to express bemusement at the Rebels’ use of the metric system, because I guess that’s the strangest thing about the movie. His impression of Luke’s whining also got big laughs.
Once the first third of the show is over, Ross speaks to the audience directly, and feels out how to proceed. At opening night, there was one poor soul who admitted to having never seen a single Star Wars movie, and therefore, was quite confused, and destined to remain so. This person became the source of a great deal of fun, but Ross also seemed genuinely apologetic. Ross also takes the opportunity to relate some funny personal anecdotes about the impact the film series has had on his life. He’s been doing this show off-and-on for fifteen years now, and has used it as the inspiration for one-man versions of The Lord of the Rings and his upcoming adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The audience itself was diverse and composed entirely of well-behaved, appreciative people, so potential buyers need not worry that this is some sort of fanboy ghetto.
You will pay for sitting in the front row.
Ross’s retellings of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are a lot more similar to the fan-work genre today known as “The Abridged Series.” He comments more about the absurdities of the story, and drops in a lot more humorous references to the prequels, but also makes a greater effort to capture the emotional heart of the trilogy. Ross also throws in references to the memes and other bits of fan activity that have emerged since he created this show, prior to the rise of the internet or Episodes II and III, but these moments seldom overwhelm the basic point of telling the story. Despite how heavily abbreviated the one-man trilogy is, Ross used nearly all of the Emperor’s dialogue without paraphrasing or truncating, (who could resist?) and the character’s scenes are the high point of the night as both a parody and a tribute. Also notable is that, while Ross’s rapid transformations sometimes come at the cost of his enunciation, Darth Vader’s heavy breathing is still distinct, and by the end of the show, he’s been working out for over an hour. If you go, and every Star Wars fan should at least once, be sure to stay for Ross’s story afterwards about the early development of the one man trilogy and how he reached an agreement with Lucasfilm, because it’s fascinating in its own right.
Reviewed April 20, 2016
For more information, see One-Man Star Wars Trilogy’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E Chestnut, Chicago. Tickets are $35-65.; to order, call 800-775-2000 or visit BroadwayinChicago.com. Performances are April 21 at 7:30 pm, April 22 at 7:30 pm, April 23 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm, and April 24 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Running time is seventy-five minutes, ninety minutes including the post-show.
Remember when your little brother re-enacted every “Star Wars” scene in your basement when you were kids – complete with voice impersonations, sound effects and light saber battles?
Fast-forward about 35 years and you’ll see him all grown up, onstage, wielding an imaginary light saber and occasionally cracking himself up in ONE-MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY, now playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
This show is almost strictly for hard-core “Star Wars” nerds. Charles Ross, who wrote and has been performing the show since 2001, knows this and makes no apologies. Nor should he. It is entertaining for what it is and for whom it is intended.
Ross takes the stage wearing a black flight suit and black, barefoot running shoes. The stage is also black, and empty. There are no props, not even a toy light saber (even though he’s holding one in the photo above). Ross more than makes up for that through his spot-on light-saber sound-effect. (There are no canned noises; Ross does them all through his voice.)
In a swift 75 minutes, Ross performs the first three “Star Wars” films ever produced. (For those not in the know, those would be episodes IV, V and VI: “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”) He even re-enacts the words that scroll at the beginning of each film. From there, the details fly by. If you don’t know the films by heart, you may get confused. And even though there is some dialogue, probably 70 percent of the show is sound effects and physical movement.
When there are words spoken, such as when he’s impersonating one of the beloved (or not-so-beloved) characters, Ross sometimes speaks so fast or mumbles that it’s difficult to decipher. It’s as if he is indeed in his basement just talking aloud to himself.
He does infuse asides and inside jokes throughout the re-enactments (as anyone playing “Star Wars” alone would), such as dissing Jar Jar Binks and adding his own dialogue. When Darth Vader takes off his mask, “Luke” says, “I thought you were black.” “Vader” answers: “No, that’sJames Earl Jones, my voice.”
Ross’ best impersonations are of Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 (uncanny accuracy). And his Jabba the Hut brought down the house. The rest are just OK. He demonstrates Han Solo’s cocky personality with crotch grabs, which doesn’t really translate. One can imagine getting down the voices of Darth Vader and Yoda would be difficult; then again, he’s had 15 years to perfect it.
In between the three re-enactments, Ross speaks directly to the audience. He’s very polite (he is Canadian, after all) and earnest in this super-specific, geeky endeavor. He takes a poll to gauge audience affection for the subject, and on Tuesday night, there was actually one person in the audience who confessed to never having seen a “Star Wars” film. Ross seemed stunned but then had fodder for added jokes throughout the show. He singled out another woman, whose continual and loud guffaws delighted him. “You are welcome at every single one of my shows…free of charge,” he said.
Ross’ self-awareness about his subject and how it affects a certain population is endearing, and he’s at his best when engaging with the audience. He tells a poignant story about his own father taking him to see the “Star Wars” films as a kid – and he also makes it funny. One wonders whether a stand-up act built around the “Star Wars” theme instead of the other way around might not appeal to a more broad audience.
Think about it, he should.
ONE-MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY runs through April 24 at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut. Tickets : $35-$65. Call (800) 775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com.
by Teresa Budasi