The Force is Strong with this ‘One Man Star Wars Trilogy’
If You Go …
What: ‘One Man Star Wars Trilogy’
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Friday, Jan. 8, 8 p.m.
How much: $20
Tickets: Wheeler box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
Just about any kid who has watched “Star Wars” has thrown a bath towel over his head and pretended to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, or held her fists together and made a buzzing sound to start up a lightsaber.
Actor Charles Ross has made a career of it.
Ross, who brings his “One Man Star Wars Trilogy” to the Wheeler Opera House today, has been touring the show for 15 years now. Its roots go back his days as just another kid playing “Star Wars.”
As an 8-year-old, he perfected the bleeps and blurps of R2-D2’s droid voice.
“It’s still my favorite, because it still works,” Ross said in a recent phone interview. “Being a kid, I couldn’t be Darth Vader. I didn’t have the voice for it. But the sound effects always fascinated me.”
He grew up to be an actor — training at the University of Victoria in British Columbia — and, in 2001, wrote a zany one-man show condensing “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
Running a little over an hour, the play has Ross doing it all — the John Williams score, the sounds of the droids, the voices of the characters, the explosions of the Death Star, the blasts of blasters and the whooshing of space ships — running through the plots of all three original films. Ross doesn’t use props or costumes. To approximate Princess Leia’s iconic double hair bun, for example, Ross simply cups his hands above his ears when delivering her lines. Only his dexterous body and voice bring that galaxy far, far way to the stage.
He approaches it like a medieval storyteller, dramatically recounting a tale in the oral tradition, evoking people’s imaginations and allowing the audience to fill in the blanks.
“It’s like being a bard,” he said. “They would be using their voice, their body probably in some way. But the story was already familiar. People knew the stories. It’s in how you’re telling it. (Rather than) have what could be a lame prop show, it seemed to make more sense to say, ‘What can I do with nothing?’ That’s what turned out to make the show special.”
Over its decade and a half on tour, the show hasn’t changed much. Ross uses the same script. But, he said, its running time has gone down from about 70 minutes to 65 on most nights as he’s tightened up his onstage presentation.
The new entry in the intergalactic saga, “The Force Awakens,” which pleased fans, quickly became the highest-grossing movie in U.S. history and is well on its way to world domination, has brought new attention and demand for the show around the U.S.
Ross launched “One Man Star Wars Trilogy” amid the 1999 to 2005 run of prequels, much derided by older fans of the original trilogy but embraced by kids. Taking his show on the road, Ross has seen the generation of children who loved the prequels grow up, with some interesting results.
“We now have adults that like Jar Jar Binks,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always thought that was weird, to have a reasoned argument with an adult who thinks Jar Jar Binks is OK.”
Though he’s left the “Star Wars” universe to do other acting — and a “Lord of the Rings” one-man show — the “Star Wars” piece has been on the road consistently since it premiered, playing upward of 1,200 times in hundreds of cities and winning the blessing of George Lucas’ Lucasfilm.
“When I wrote it, I didn’t know it would work the way it does,” Ross said. “It accesses an audience in a way no other show that I can think of does. There are people who come see it who have never seen ‘Star Wars.’ Yet it’s amazing how much that world has entered the zeitgeist — people just know the sound of Darth Vader’s voice, they just know certain lines.”
So fear not, Force neophytes (and spouses being dragged into the theater): you don’t have to have seen “Star Wars” a thousand times to enjoy Ross’ off-kilter Cliffs Notes version. He adjusts the performance slightly depending on the nerd quotient in the crowd.
“I have a few litmus test jokes early on,” he said. “It lets me know what kind of an audience I’m dealing with. If it’s a really nerdy audience, they’re going to get all the jokes. And that’s going to affect the performance. Sometimes I can blast right through it, sometimes I need to lead people through it.”
For example, early on, he subs out some expository dialogue from a subordinate to Darth Vader, instead saying, “exposition, exposition, exposition.” If it gets a laugh, he knows he has serious fans in the crowd who get the reference.
“Sometimes I have to slow things down so people know exactly who I am,” he said. “My show is made for the casual fan. There are jokes peppered throughout for the more advanced fan. But if you’ve only seen ‘Star Wars’ once back in the day, you will be surprised by how much you remember.”
As for “The Force Awakens,” Ross said he went in without expectations (“If it was crap, OK, but if it was great, then great.”). Like most fans of the original trilogy, Ross was thrilled with the new offering.
“I loved it,” he said. “I thought it was properly nostalgic without being too much so. … I’ve seen it twice in the theater. But it’s been a challenge to keep myself from going a dozen times.”
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