Direct from New York, Charles Ross brings his "The One Man Star Wars Trilogy," to the Jaeb Theater at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Nov. 1 to 6.
TAMPA - Without the use of props or any other actors, Charles Ross sings John Williams' theme music, mimes the crawling yellow text at the beginning of each episode, replicates the sound effects of whooshing X-Wing Starfighters and impersonates all the characters from Star Wars in his 58-minute show.
Direct from New York, "The One Man Star Wars Trilogy," is coming to the Jaeb Theater at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Nov. 1 to 6.
Additionally, the Tampa Bay area's 407th Storm Trooper squadron will be providing "security" during the run of the show.
The performance schedule is Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Demand for Ross' critically acclaimed show is suddenly hotter than the twin suns of Tatooine now that "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" - which earned a record $271.2 million in 12 days - has restored balance to the Force by reviving public interest.
"It's a homage," said Ross, but he quickly adds that he pokes fun at the space opera, too. "I can sometimes make small commentary or I can just do an impression. If you capitalize on somebody's idiosyncrasy and you heighten it, just slightly, it makes for a sort of mockery, but at the same time I like to have a tone of respect."
Ross spent three years - longer than Han Solo was frozen in carbonite - touring the show at fringe festivals and small towns and cities such as Dubuque, Iowa. When Ross reached Chicago in 2003, he performed his high-energy shtick on a stage the size of a kitchen table, much to the amazement of audience member Kathy van Beuningen.
"He runs around the stage; he rolls around the stage; he jumps around the stage," said van Beuningen, who has now seen the show 35 times. "He's always moving."
Word eventually reached the offices of "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. That led to an invitation from Lucasfilm to appear at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con, the mecca of science-fiction conventions. When Ross finished performing, his elbow and kneepads thoroughly scuffed and black clothes drenched in sweat, the 3,000 sci-fi fans in the audience stood up and cheered like braying Wookiees. Ross hasn't looked back since.
Inspiration for the show began a long time ago, in a living room far, far away. Ross, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, frittered away his childhood by watching a videotape of "Star Wars" more than 400 times. The repeat viewings (current tally: 474) paid off.
Ross, a professional actor who had spent years working with theater groups across Canada, knew how to mimic all the voices in "Star Wars" - as well as the fluorescent hum of a light saber - when he set about adapting the trilogy for stage. Ross and director T.J. Dawe then devised ways to physically represent each character so that the audience knows whom they're watching at any moment. At times, Ross seems to fully embody the roles he's playing; at other times, he relies on a simple gesture as shorthand. Hands cupped around the ears, for example, represent Leia's infamous bun hairstyle. The actor isn't afraid to editorialize, either - Obi Wan's nose does a Pinocchio every time he talks about how Luke's father died.
"The closer you sit the better, " writes Joshua Griffin co-owner of TheForce.net, a popular "Star Wars" fan site, in an e-mail. "All fans will appreciate it, and those most dedicated to the saga will note every nuance he manages to capture onstage."
Ross believes he has also succeeded in distilling "Star Wars" to its essence: the fall and rise of Darth Vader.
"The redemption [of Vader] is interesting because it comes in the form of these children, a new generation that take the mistakes of their father and teach their father the way," he said. "They have long-term faith that he will do the right thing, and he does, in the end."
At some point in the future, Ross will embark on a stage production of the recent "Star Wars" prequels. For now he's busy enough with a sideline production of "The One Man Lord of the Rings," a 60-minute show that has elicited accolades from "Rings" actor Ian McKellen.
Tickets are $21.50 and may be purchased by calling (813) 229-STAR (7827) or (800) 955-1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at The Center Ticket Office or online at TBPAC.ORG.