A version of this story ran in the May 25 Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman, prior to Charles Ross’ successful Oklahoma City run of his “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy,” which marked the show’s Oklahoma debut. My family and I caught the last OKC show, and Ross’ performance was truly hilarious and worth seeing!
‘One-Man Star Wars Trilogy’ to make its Tulsa premiere
Following its recent Oklahoma debut in Oklahoma City, Canadian actor Charles Ross’ hourlong impression of “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi” will play tonight at Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
“A long time ago …”
OK, it was only about 13 years ago.
“In a galaxy far, far away …”
Actually, it was in Victoria, British Columbia, which is only in Canada.
Charles Ross developed an out-of-this-world concept for a one-man show that has taken him, if not to the far edges of the universe, then at least to four continents and about 350 cities across Planet Earth.
Ross, 39, is the creative force and solo performer of the popular “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy,” which recently made its Oklahoma debut at the Freede Little Theatre at Civic Center Music Hall.
“This was not the first time I was trying to come to Oklahoma City, this was just the first time it’s worked out,” Ross said in a recent phone interview.
“I actually didn’t think that theater would take me this far, but this is a show, a theater show, that has enabled me to go anywhere that ‘Star Wars’ has, which is virtually everywhere on the planet. It’s a passport of reference.”
It’s also good timing for the show to make its Sooner State debut: Sunday marks the 37th anniversary of the theatrical debut of “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” the first installment of George Lucas’ space saga about an intergalactic farm boy and his efforts to free the known universe from the clutches of an evil empire.
The state debut of “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” marked the 2013-14 season finale for Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre. Donald Jordan, CityRep’s founding artistic director, said he expected Ross’ fast, funny performances to resonate with local theatergoers as they have with audiences around the globe. He wasn’t disappointed
“After tackling some very serious subjects this year with the Tony Award-winning ‘Red’ and the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic ‘South Pacific’ we wanted to end the season on a lighter note,” Jordan said in an email.
Much like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Ross’ “Star Wars” adventure started on a farm. It wasn’t as far-flung as Luke’s home on Tatooine, but it didn’t have television reception.
“We only had a couple movies. We had ‘Star Wars,’ the first film, and whenever I wanted to watch television that was the way to watch television. It was basically to just watch ‘Star Wars,’ and in the end, before we moved — and this may sound apocryphal, but it is not — I’d watched the film about 400 times, because we lived there for years and we never did get any television reception,” said Ross, who also will perform his “Star Wars” show tonight at the Tulsa Performing Art Center.
“‘Star Wars’ had become part of my long-term memory, so when I came to sitting down at a computer trying to write it — and I’d watched the other films also, an incredible amount of times, but not as bad as 400 times — I didn’t have to re-watch it. I had already seen it. … Coming up with the impressions, trying to think of the little special effects that are going to make it in my show, they were in my head, and in a sense, in my heart.”
His idea for the show dates back to 1994 – which means it sort of predates many ‘Star Wars’ tributes, send-ups and even Lucas’ prequel trilogy – when he was a University of Victoria student and touring at a series of fringe theater festivals with a five-person production. His group didn’t make any money, but he noticed who did: solo performers who had a great hook. He eventually set out to write a one-man show about the entire history of film, but when his five-minute bit about ‘Star Wars’ ballooned to 35 minutes, he decided instead to condense “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” into an hourlong production.
He debuted his “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” in Toronto in January 2001, and he has since performed it across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey.
Although “Star Wars” is widely heralded for its groundbreaking visuals, the Canadian actor does his one-man show with no sets, props or costumes. The black-clad performer uses his lifelong gift for impressions to do all the character voices, sound effects and even John Williams’ iconic music. Even people who have only seen the saga once – or not at all – will recognize R2-D2’s whistles and Darth Vader’s wheeze, he said.
“It was a surprise to me to realize that people’s imagination could actually fill it in, and we are not having to imagine that much. It’s once again tapping into memory, to pattern … so I’m trying to do impressions using my body to sort of become the great special effects,” said Ross, who has since developed “One-Man Lord of the Rings” and “One Man 80s Blank Tape” shows.
“My thought was … why not try to tap into that sort of playful 8-year-old, 9-year-old child, who can imagine, who will make their body be anything. That’s tapping into the exuberance, that unabashed love as something as simple as a movie, a story. That’s what I think the appeal of the show is about.”
For children and even some adults, Ross’ family-friendly show will mark their first experience with the theatrical art of the one-man show, which is exciting for the performer.
“I actually try to do a straight impression. The funny things about it are some of the earnestness of some of the characters. You know, Luke Skywalker just had a certain quality to him that was, forgive me, just a little bit laughable, I mean in a wonderful way. I mean, I loved Luke Skywalker, still do, but there’s something so earnest and whiny about him that when you play it straight people can laugh because it is being played straight, not being played to … By being earnest about it that sort of makes it absurd and funny because if I’m trying to be Princes Leia as earnestly as I can, well, I’m a man, a 39-year-old man standing there in a pair of black coveralls on stage, with maybe one or two days growth of beard, you know, trying to be Princess Leia,” Ross said.
“I guess going to all of these different places and the anticipation of it being a new audience and ‘Are they gonna get it? What do I have to do to make them get it?’ that’s what keeps it fresh and honest and sometimes even makes me a little bit scared because I don’t want to meet the audience that just can’t possibly get it. This has happened a couple of times, but I think it’s only been twice in 14 years, 13½ years, so I count that as a pretty good average.”
Charles Ross’ “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy”
When: 7:30 tonight.
Where: John H. Williams Theatre, Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E Second, Tulsa.