If there are two things I love in this life, it’s musicals and drag. Judging by the amount of Instagram ads I got for Starwalker, even the almighty algorithm knows it.
Starwalker is an unapologetically local, queer, and Indigenous new musical from director, writer, and composer Corey Payette. The story follows Star (Dillan Meighan Chiblow), a young Two-Spirit Indigiqueer, as they become embroiled in the world of East Van drag — finding love, and reconnecting to their own identity along the way.
The show marries themes of chosen family, intersectionality and Indigenous identity into a constellation of radiant and touching storytelling through the art of drag.
From the moment the show opens, the audience is thrown right into a House of Borealis drag ball. The queens break the fourth wall, telling the audience to cheer louder while performing death drops and duck walks in “Jizz-ney Princess” campy couture. But throughout its runtime, Starwalker’s characters shed their sequins and sarcasm to reveal the tenderness and vulnerability at the core of drag family.
Payette’s music and lyrics parallel the culture-mash story, blending dance beats and contemporary Broadway fare with Indigenous drumming and singing. These musical motifs culminate in the act one finale song where Star uses their drag debut to explore and affirm their Indigenous identity in a part performance, part protest showstopper.
Any theatre kid knows that songs can really make or break a show. Luckily, Starwalker offers some really infectious earworms and moving melodies complemented by the cast’s strong vocals and Ralph Escamillan’s vogue-inspired choreography.
The show’s musical muscles really get flexed in act two, when the heightened tension allows for more story-driven and impactful songs. Stand-out tracks include act two opening bop “Bothered” (drop it on Spotify, Corey) and the penultimate emotional ballad “Soar,” which really shows off Chiblow’s singing chops.
In terms of makeup and costuming, Starwalker outfits its cast with the expected drag opulence and just enough DIY touches to ground the story in its East Van roots. The queens’ looks range from almost Met Gala-worthy to straight up off the rack, reflecting the reality of what you would see at a typical Vancouver drag show (no tea, no shade). Each performer also had their own unique style of drag makeup — another nice, authentic touch.
Throughout the show, the York Theatre’s humble stage is transformed from Mother Borealis’ plush bedroom to a clothing store to the woods of Stanley Park — each set just as effective and grounding as the last. Moody blue and red tones and energetic disco lights complement each scene to transport the audience to the emotional world of the characters.
At the heart of Starwalker are the relationships between the House of Borealis drag family. The relatively small-scale and low-stakes story works because of how these relationships come to life through Payette’s music and dialogue and the charismatic performances from the entire cast.
Starwalker’s poignant beauty lies in its ability to recognize both the melancholy and joy behind many queer experiences — from losing family to finding a new one.