Saturday, May 7, 2011

Starstruck--The Radio Play!

I've got some very fond memories of listening to old Dick Tracy radio plays on cassette tapes while I was growing up. The radio dramas featured talented voice actors, music to set the mood and just the right sound effect to suggest whatever setting the characters found themselves in. (And of course, there were those great ads from the sponsor, Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice--"It's shot from guns!") There's a complicity in audio dramas on the part of the listener that I really dig: Similar to the way a reader interprets temporal relations across panel breaks and page turns in comics, in "radio," the listener decodes aural clues to paint the entire picture in his or her imagination. All of which is to say, I was naturally curious when news reached me that Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta's madcap space-opera comic-book-series Starstruck had been given the radio-play treatment by the AudioComics Company. And before I go into detail, let me just say that my curiosity more than payed off--Starstruck proves to be a perfect fit for an audio play.

As Elaine Lee explained in a recent interview with Suicide Girls, before it was a comic book, Starstruck was a stage play co-written by Lee, Susan Norfleet and Dale Place, and it was during the production of the play back in the early '80s that writer Lee met artist Kaluta and, well, the rest is galactic history, so to speak. Much more recently, as Lee, Kaluta and painter Lee Moyer set to work on the remastered edition of the comic (published last year by IDW, and available hot off the presses in a collected edition), the AudioComics Company came calling to see about adapting Starstruck into a radio play. In scripting the audio drama, rather than try to capture the multiverse-spanning scale of the 13-part comic-book series, Lee returned to the original stage play, which takes place some time after the events seen in the comics. The proverbial stage is set in the audio play when Prime Minister Glorianna of Phoebus goes missing and Captain Galatia 9 (played by Tavia Gilbert) and her crew--Brucilla the Muscle (Jennywren Sanders), Erotica Ann 333 (Kristina Balbo) and Sister Bronwyn of the Cosmic Veil (Genevieve Casagrande)--are called on to respond. They soon find themselves face-to-face with Galatia 9's twisted half-sister, Verloona Ti (Denise Poirier), and her nefarious, sniveling cohorts (given voice by James Herrera and Brent Askari). Zaniness, sure enough, ensues.

Bringing the stage play into audio form was without question the right way to go. For one thing, I'm always suspicious of adapting brilliant comics into other media (hence why I still haven't watched the animated All-Star Superman movie). More importantly, though, the stage play's story was appropriately contained for a, well, play. But don't let that fool you--if there's an aural equivalent to the comics' dense visuals, this is most certainly it. Just as the comics' layers of detail reward multiple reads, so too does the audio play reward multiple listens. Indeed, it's impressive to hear how the storytelling devices used in the comics are translated to the radio-play form. A rich use of sound effects (far more impressive than what was afforded the Dick Tracy productions back in the day) creates a detailed, variegated aural landscape complemented by Dwight Dixon's pitch-perfect score. And where each issue of the comic would incorporate "excerpts" from "historical" accounts like Musings on the Events Leading Up to the Great Change and Ordering Anarchera in order to provide readers with pertinent bits of backstory and effectively flesh out what feels like a very real and lived-in multiverse, in the audio play, an omniscient narrator (voiced by Simon Vance) occasionally speaks up to season the narrative with similar background information.

No discussion of an audio play can be complete without mention of the voice cast, and Starstruck's is remarkably spot on, matching what I'd heard in my head while reading the comics to an almost frightening degree. There's a half-crazed energy to the entire play reminiscent of the '60s Batman TV series (always a great comparison, in my book); the acting here often reminds me of Frank Gorshin and Cesar Romero's all-or-nothing, over-the-top portrayals of the Riddler and the Joker, respectively.

For anyone unfamiliar with Starstruck, I recommend you get acquainted first with the comics. But then, just as fast as you can, treat yourself to the radio play, and allow the sounds to flood your mind's eye with visions of Kaluta's art, Moyer's colors and Lee's indelible characters. It's loud, it's raucous, it's baffling, sexy, hilarious and so much more--in short, it's Starstruck. And it's not to be missed.

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