String Bean Ventures to the Death Star for New Musical

by Erin Andersen, Lincoln Journal Star, October 16, 2012 

Writer Curt Bright (left) and music director Deanna Mumgaard (middle) help Emma Misegadis 13, of Lincoln, with staging

Not so long ago

In an imagination far, far unique

Curt Bright’s brain got stuck

on ‘Baby Got Back’s’ hit.

‘I like big butts, and I cannot lie’

… But Bright, as he is apt to do, started playing with the words.

He came up with “I like big hutts …”

As in Jaba the Hutt, the self-indulgent mafioso-esque blob of Star Wars fame.

“My friends and co-workers thought it was hilarious,” Bright said.

Because they, like Bright, grew up with the original “Star Wars” trilogy, they encouraged him to come up with another song.

“Then I thought, if I write enough of these songs and put them together, I can tell the story of the Star Wars trilogy,” Bright said.

Zachary Hamilton, 11, tries on his droid costume for the play.

The result is “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Star” — the first full-length play written by the founder of Lincoln’s popular children’s entertainment group The String Beans.

The play opens Friday for four performances at the Youth Actors Academy of Lincoln. Three shows are sold out. Tickets remain for the recently added fourth show at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy will chuckle and all-out guffaw at Bright’s musical parody, retelling the entire three-movie storyline in all of 60 minutes.

There is a full repertoire of musical numbers based on hits of the Beatles, Bee Gees, ABBA and Johnny Cash, as well as a variety of Disney show tunes — each rewritten with Bright’s hallmark creative and punny plays on words and situations — such as Princess Leia freeing a frozen Han Solo from his icebox.

“A Funny Thing” debuted, somewhat dubiously, at Bright’s friend’s house. The String Bean was treated to birthday cake, and he gave his friends a one-man performance of his first-ever play.

“They were a very generous and kind audience,” Bright said. “And they were probably a little tipsy. But they laughed a lot, and I was very encouraged.”

From there, Bright treated audiences at science fiction conventions in Lincoln and Omaha to snippets of the musical. Bright’s nephew and friend pitched the production to YAAL.

Working with 24 actors, ranging in age from 7 to 17, Bright has tweaked the lines a bit, making YAAL’s production more G than PG.

Curt Bright (left) goes through lines and staging with James Allen, 14, of Lincoln, who plays Darth Vader in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Star”.

“Now, it is a very family-friendly production. … It’s in the safe zone of parody and satire.”

YAAL Director Cory Misek said “A Funny Thing” is a production of firsts: Bright’s first play; Misek’s first time directing a full production; a first stage experience for half of the young cast; the first major performance in YAAL’s studio, which is being transformed into a performance venue; and the first time the script has been performed.

The challenges have been many, Misek said. But he, Bright and the ever-exuberant young cast are a bottomless pit of ideas.

“These kids have great ideas,” Bright said. “They are really creative and funny.”

Take the scene where a disillusioned stormtrooper named Dave (Grace Fitzgibbon, 13) whines about how boring it is to guard the Death Star.

Stormtrooper Randy (Emma Misegadis, 13) offers counsel before channeling her inner Beyoncé and breaking into the song, “Stormtroopers” (sung to the theme of “Ghostbusters”).

Although Bright initially wrote “A Funny Thing” for the 30- and 40-something set, the YAAL actors are performing a modified and shortened G-rated version.

Bright still has his PG version, complete with double-entendres and some brother/sister attraction humor between Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia — which he hopes someday will be performed on the Lied Center for the Performing Arts stage.

But audiences attending the YAAL show will see a very-much kid-friendly production — “The youngling or Padawan version,” as Misek refers to it.

Bright’s ultimate dream is that someday George Lucas will see his play.

“I admit it. I’m a fan boy,” Bright said.

“I think George Lucas would laugh  … and enjoy what we are doing with this. It is good-hearted. It is almost like a love letter to Star Wars.”

Helena Miller, 10, of Lincoln, commands the ensemble during a rehearsal for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Star”.

If you go…

What: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Star,” a musical comedy presented by Youth Actors Academy of Lincoln. Written by Curt Bright, founder of the String Beans musical group for children.

When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday. All other performances are sold out.

Where: 5930 S. 57th St., Suite C

Tickets: $10. Available at http://www.yaal.org.

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One thought on “String Bean Ventures to the Death Star for New Musical

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