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New York Times Sunday Section

TEEN-AGE FANTASY COLORS A COMIC-BOOK MUSICAL By Leah D. Frank, NY TIMES

Even as theaters like the Long Island Stage company are closing their doors because of economic troubles and others are cutting back production costs and personnel for the same reasons, a new theatre, the “Victory Theater” in Farmingdale, has just opened. Its premiere production is a rousing rendition of “Starmites,” a musical comic book about a trip through inner space.

Inner space? Yes. Inner space, for those who do not know, is the outer region of imagination, and it is the place where an awkward, lonely teen-age girl named Eleanor hides in order to avoid painful issues of adolescence like the opposite sex. Eleanor has built a fantasy world around the characters in the science
fiction comic books she collects. In real life, Eleanor does not fit in with her peers. Much to the distress of her mother, she has learned to avoid the pains of growing up by reading comic books and imagining herself to be an unrecognized superheroine.

“Starmites” is an utterly charming musical that was lost on the large expanse of a Broadway stage in 1989. But here, in the small 140-seat Victory, the intimacy of the musical by Barry Keating and Stuart Ross weaves its magic. You do not need to be a science-fiction buff to enjoy “Starmites.” The only prerequisite is that you be, or once were, young.

Eleanor, alone in her bedroom on planet Earth, is drawn into the conflict between Shak Graa, the arch-creep of chaos, and the Starmites, the guardian angels of Inner Space. Only Eleanor, who is really the preordained savior of the universe, can save Earth from destruction by the forces of the evil Shak Graa. She and the Starmites team up on a quest to find “the cruelty,” an instrument of perfect harmony, and keep it out of shak Graa’s greedy hands. Along the way, they run into a wild band of Banshees led by a great queen named Diva, and are forced into a series of adventures.

It is not going to spoil the ending to reveal that good and justice prevail and…that evil is thwarted. “Starmites” is about how people discover self-confidence and build self-esteem. It is also about individuals discovering the centers of their beings, so they can grasp what is important and what is superficial. In short, “Starmites” is a living cartoon about growing up that should appeal to children of all ages.

This production of “Starmites,” directed by Len Borovay, underscores the youthful fantasy by casting actors who are so young that they appear to be living re-creations of Archie and Veronica who have teamed up with Superboy to fight the demons of galactic destruction. Using these varely-out-of-high-school performers turns out to be inspired casting on the part of Mr. Borovay, because their earnestness and freshness keep the material from slipping over the edge into meaningless camp. Here the musical is about the anxiety of becoming a teen-ager and learning what are often painful lessons about life, love and sex.

When Eleanor meets the Starmites, she does not notice that they are four of the cuterst nerds ever to threaten intergalactic warfare. She does notice, however, that Spacepunk, their captain, is the kind of guy that every teen-bopper dreams of dating. He is suave and debonaire, or at least he tries to be; and even when he goofs up, he is charming and cool.

If Eleanor is every teen-age girl, then Spacepunk is every teen-age boy, as the boys wish they were. Purveyors of wisdom and saviors of the galaxy, these two are everything teen-agers know themselves to be. Just to balance out the universe, Diva queen, has a daughter named Bizarbara, who spends all day in her room reading comic books about Earthlings and their adventures on the green planet. Like Eleanor, Bizarbara fantasizes, too, about sock hops and shopping malls. Teen-agers, after all, are a separate species, no matter what planet they are from…….

The sets are an amalgam of bits and pieces of muscle-bound comic-book characters and splashes of primary colors, bright reds, yellows, greens and blues. It is a minimal set, but it is appropriate and imaginative.

The Victory has staged an impressive opening show. It has chosen material suited to its small theater and to the available talent, which is often easier in the intention than in the practice. Although not a children’s show, “Starmites” should still be fun for the whole family.