Saturday , June 15 2024
L to R: Clayton Matthews, Maxwell Nusbaum, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, Lindsey M. E. Newton, Crystal Marie Stewart in KHAN!!!! The Musical.
L to R: Clayton Matthews, Maxwell Nusbaum, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, Lindsey M. E. Newton, Crystal Marie Stewart in KHAN!!!! The Musical. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Theater Review: ‘KHAN!!! The Musical!’ – ‘Star Trek’ Parody Hits All the Right Notes

On the one hand, KHAN!!! The Musical! is the ultimate in-joke. If you aren’t familiar with the Star Trek cosmos, 90% of the show will be meaningless to you.

You could appreciate the performances, the pacing, the smart, engaging music and lyrics. You might follow the clever references to other musicals, the spirited Broadway tropes and hijinks, the evocations of amusements of every kind from vaudeville to today’s generative AI craze. But you’d miss what it was all about.

On the other hand, if you don’t know Star Trek, and in particular 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the second feature film derived from the original series (TOS), I’ll wager you’re in a minority. The deep mythos and the optimistic weltanshaung spawned in the imagination of one Gene Roddenberry in the early 1960s are as firmly baked into our culture as any pop-culture phenomenon you can think of.

Data’s Persistence of Vision

Brent Black (book, music and lyrics) and a talented team combined sci-fi fandom and musical-theater knowledge to develop this wildly entertaining and brilliantly clever parody of what was already the most giddily campy chapter in the Star Trek saga.

Laura Whittenberger, Crystal Marie Stewart, Julian Manjerico, Lindsey M.E. Newton in KHAN!!! The Musical. Photo by Carol Rosegg
L to R: Laura Whittenberger, Crystal Marie Stewart, Julian Manjerico, Lindsey M.E. Newton in KHAN!!! The Musical. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Black has given the show a most logical framing device. On the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, Commander Data, the android Starfleet officer, is on a mission to become as human as possible, a storyline that runs through that show’s seven seasons. The premise of the musical is that to further his goal, Data has absorbed Earth’s musical-theater history and created his own Broadway-style musical, basing it on what are to him historical events and using the building blocks of the genre. (The Next Generation takes place some 80 years after the events of the original series.)

This makes it more than fair game to include references to hit musicals, from Hamilton to Rent to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A fun side mission is to try to spot as many of these as you can – not always easy, as they fly by quickly in this fast-paced show.

It’s Black’s mastery of the blocks and shards and bits from classic musicals that drives the show. The dialogue, songs, and production numbers are crammed with detail, and the cast, obviously having a great time, has the comedy and song-and-dance chops to carry it all off.

Rehashing the Wrath of Khan

The Wrath of Khan movie is chock full of iconic Trek moments. As it’s been some years since I’ve seen the movie, I had to ask my wife (an even bigger trekker-nerd than I am) if all the plot elements on stage had indeed been in the film. Yes, she said.

The Genesis device. Captain Kirk’s reunion with his old flame, with the associated revelation. The squirmy thing inserted into Chekov’s ear that makes him a Khan stooge. “The needs of the many…” And so on. The show works them all in.

At the same time it nods to the flaws of the galaxy Roddenberry built: the egregious sexism of the first series, the plot weaknesses of the film, the good-bad acting.

Key to any TOS spoof are William Shatner’s mannerisms as Captain Kirk. Shyaporn Theerakulstit has them down, delivering the weird pauses and the softened consonants with just the right touch of exaggeration. Zachary Kropp is a fabulous (in both senses of the word) Khan, a hamming-it-up takeoff on Ricardo Montalban’s original – a character who became so iconic he was brought back in a big way in a much-later reboot movie. Kropp’s Khan is a tattooed, slippery-savage caricature of a bent-on-revenge villain.

‘Star Trek’ on Point: Choreographer on the Bridge

The musical doesn’t flesh out all the characters as much as Kirk and Khan, but all get their moments, especially Spock (Maxwell Nusbaum in a nuanced turn), tap-dancing and channeling ’50s rock and roll. Clayton Matthews has George Takei’s endlessly imitated Sulu down, and has fun with Chekov’s Russian accent. Crystal Marie Stewart exudes knowing power as Uhura and Carol. Laura Whittenberger as the half-Vulcan Saavik (the Kirstie Alley character in the movie) – here, her other half is “ingenue” – has loads of fun sending up the plight of a character of whose purpose no one seems sure.

L to R:  Crystal Marie Stewart, Zachary Kropp, Laura Whittenberger in KHAN!!! The Musical
L to R: Crystal Marie Stewart, Zachary Kropp, Laura Whittenberger in KHAN!!! The Musical. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Julian Manjerico is hilarious as Data, who talks to the audience between scenes, and in a series of smaller goofball roles.

Spoofing Star Trek is no undiscovered country. It’s been done well – Galaxy Quest, for example (whose theme song nestles among David Bowie and Elton John in the pre-show soundtrack) – and done poorly (no need to name names). But it’s never been done quite like this before.

Bantering with the audience, “Data” hints that the show would like to graduate to an “extended midtown run.” I say make it so.

KHAN!!! The Musical! A Parody TREK-Tacular directed by John Lampe runs through June 4 at the Players Theater in NYC. Tickets are available online.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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