Stewart Adam McKensy
in Starwalker
Photo: David Cooper


The Cultch
In association with Urban Ink & Raven Theatre & The Musical Stage Co.

Starwalker Book/Music/Lyrics by Corey Payette

When & Where February 16 - March 5, 2023 | York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive

Choreography Ralph Escamillan Music Direction Sean Bayntun Set Design Anna Shearing Costume Design Alaia Hamer Lighting Design Jonathan Kim Sound Design Brad Danyluk Wardrobe Tiffany Bishop Props Kaleigh Funnell Stage Manager Melanie Thompson

Reviewer John Jane

In Starwalker, multi-faceted performance artist and indigenous storyteller Corey Payette has created a genre bending, groundbreaking stage musical. Initially, the show comes across as a mash-up of burlesque and a gay love story, but as the show plays out, it also includes elements of mystical indigenous culture and a deeper philosophical context of belonging.

Dillan Meighan Chiblow as Starwalker
Photo: David Cooper

The story, at its core, is pretty linear. Boy meets boy, they become fast friends and all too quickly fall in love. The twist in this story however, is that one of pair is the eponymous Eddy Starwalker, played with incredible vulnerability by Ojibwe actor Dillan Meighan Chiblow, a runaway Indigenous teen living on the streets. The other participant is Levi (Jeffrey Follis), a veteran drag performer at the House of Borealis, an East Vancouver night club.

The establishment’s proprietor and de facto Den Mother allows Eddy – now known as Star – to stay at the “house” providing he will consider performing. Predictably, Star shines as a drag performer as he parlays his roots into a successful cabaret act. I did feel uncomfortable with this aspect of the show feeling it might be considered cultural appropriation, since Star is exploiting his ancestral heritage. But since Payette himself is a member of Mattagami First Nations, I guess I should let this go.

Corey Payette maintains a brisk even pace through the first act where much of the action takes place in the House of Borealis. Slick dance moves, choreographed by Ralph Escamillan, and fifteen songs delivered in high camp in musical styles ranging from Vaudevillian show tunes, disco, power ballads and even traditional (sounding) first nations folk songs keep the audience completely engaged.

The nine musicians under the direction of Sean Bayntun produce a gorgeous sound that reaches every corner of the York Theatre, yet never overpowers the singers. Alaia Hamer’s outrageously over-the-top costumes add something to the production quality and certainly give audience members some insight into how drag has become mainstream entertainment.

The momentum drops off in the second act, where sheer entertainment tends to give way to drama. It’s here that Payette storytelling loses a little of its congruity and might have benefitted from a dramaturge. We hear little of the protagonist’s family back story and had the show continued as a straightforward musical, it wouldn’t have mattered, but in the second act, Payette uses drag performance as a metaphor for self-expression.

Dillan Chiblow and Jeffrey Follis demonstrate exceptional vocal range as well as decent acting chops either when together or in their respective solo performances. Stewart Adam McKensy as Mother Borealis delivers stellar support that combines charm, camp and cynicism. Special kudos to the drag queens who manage to look good in mini-skirts and high heels.

Corey Payette’s Starwalker is a totally different musical from anything you will likely experience anywhere except Vancouver. It also offers a message that we can take away - the family that we find for ourselves is equally as important as the one we’re given.

© 2023 John Jane